NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – A university official said the Ethiopian army’s latest airstrike hit the school in the rebel capital of the Tigray region and caused major damage, while the United States United say neither party to the conflict is responding to calls for escalation.
The senior official described Thursday’s airstrike in an email shared with The Associated Press. It was not immediately clear if anyone was killed or injured in the Mekele airstrike.
“How the hell” can a government bomb its own people, the senior official asked. The PA does not appoint the official because he could not be reached directly.
There was no immediate comment from the Ethiopian government, which has been fighting regional forces in Tigray since the November 4 attack on a military base. Both sides carried out airstrikes. Each considers the other to be illegal, the result of a falling out between Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray leaders who once dominated the country’s ruling coalition.
With communications with the region cut off, no one knows how many people were killed, and verifying either party’s allegations is difficult.
“At this point, neither party, from what we hear, is interested in mediation,” senior US diplomat in Africa, US Assistant Secretary of State Tibor Nagy, said Thursday evening.
Nagy said of the airstrike: “From what you are saying, I certainly hope that is not true. “
Alarmed by the potential for disaster in Ethiopia and beyond, 17 US senators urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a letter Thursday to directly engage Abiy in pushing for an immediate ceasefire.
The Ethiopian government has said it is marching in a final push towards Mekele, the capital of Tigray, in an attempt to stop the region’s ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front “clique”. The TPLF infuriated Abiy’s government when it opposed the postponement of national elections linked to the pandemic until next year and held its own elections in September.
Today, deadly fighting continues in a heavily armed region of some 6 million people, a clash that some observers have compared to an interstate war in the heart of Africa’s strategic horn.
As Abiy’s government rejects urgent international calls for dialogue, a humanitarian catastrophe unfolds as food, fuel and medical supplies are desperately lacking in the Tigray region. Roads are blocked and airports closed.
More than 30,000 refugees have fled to Sudan, and fighting has displaced nearly 100,000 refugees from Eritrea to camps in northern Tigray.
“Electricity continues to be cut. The fuel for the generators has run out. This leaves 96,000 Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia without clean water, ”United Nations spokesman Stéphane Dujarric told reporters.
“A staggering number of people are crossing from Ethiopia to Sudan. Each. Single. Day, ”the UN refugee agency tweeted.
Refugees in Sudan said fighting erupted so quickly that they hardly knew what they were fleeing.
“We didn’t know about the war or when it started,” said one of them, who gave her the name Terhas. She said that on the way to Sudan with her children, “we saw a lot of corpses”, while when they arrived tired, “we did not find food”.
Almost half of the refugees are children and the United Nations has called the conditions they face “extremely harsh”.
Asked about efforts to open humanitarian corridors, US Ambassador to Ethiopia Michael Raynor told reporters that the TPLF “has not really committed to this possibility.” Meanwhile, a senior Ethiopian official, Redwan Hussein, said the government is planning a fact-finding mission into the humanitarian situation which “will not take more than a week.”
The fighting also threatens to suck in or destabilize Ethiopia’s neighbors, including Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea, whose capital was attacked by TPLF rocket over the weekend. Eritrea has remained largely silent as the TPLF accuses it of entering the conflict at Ethiopia’s request.
Nagy, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, told reporters that the United States has been in contact with Eritrean officials to urge them to “continue to show restraint.”
“Internationalizing the conflict is an absolute danger that we are doing our best, the whole region is doing its best to avoid,” he said.