The United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flight from Addis Ababa had been cleared by federal authorities, said UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, but “received instructions to stop the flight. ‘landing by the control tower of Mekelle airport’.
The flight returned safe and sound to the Ethiopian capital, he said, adding that UN agencies were “carefully examining the circumstances” of what had happened.
#Ethiopia: #A confirms that the UN humanitarian flight from Addis Ababa was forced to turn back after the start of airstrikes in #Mekelle Friday. “I can confirm that the government has been informed of this theft,” said the head of @UNOCHA Southern and Eastern Africa, Gemma Connell, told reporters.
– Amanda Price (@amandaruthprice) 22 October 2021
Ethiopian government spokesman Legesse Tulu said PA authorities were aware the UN flight was in the area, but said the UN and army had a “different time and direction.” It was not immediately clear how close the planes came to each other.
Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the People’s Liberation Front of the Tigris (TPLF), said in a tweet that “our air defense units knew the UN plane was about to land and that it was largely because of their restraint that he had not been caught between two fires ”. He suggested that the Ethiopian authorities “prepare the UN plane to be hit by our guns.”
to their detention, he was not caught in a crossfire. However, what begs the question is that the government allowed the UN plane to surrender #Mekelle only to send his fighter plane in time to attack civilian targets. While the use of the UN flight as a distraction cannot be ruled out, it
– Getachew K Reda (@reda_getachew) 22 October 2021
A military spokesperson did not answer questions.
It appeared to be a sharp escalation in the intimidation tactics authorities have used against aid workers amid the escalation of the year-long Tigray War.
Friction between government and aid groups is occurring amid the world’s worst food crisis in a decade, with nearly half a million people in Tigray reportedly facing conditions of starvation.
Since June, the government has imposed what the UN calls a “de facto humanitarian blockade” on the region of some six million people, and the PA has reported that people have started to starve to death.
Four days of air raids
Ethiopia launched airstrikes on the Tigray region for four days this week, as fighting escalated between the central government and regional forces.
Legesse, the government spokesman, said Friday’s air raid targeted a base once owned by the Ethiopian military and now used by Tigray rebel forces as a training site in Mekelle.
Reda, a spokesperson for the TPLF, told Reuters news agency that the attack hit the grounds of Mekelle University. He said he had no information on the victims.
Three humanitarian sources in Ethiopia, citing information from residents of Mekelle, also told Reuters that the attack hit Mekelle University.
Tigrai TV, which is controlled by the TPLF, reported that the attack hit the main campus of the university and 11 civilians were injured.
Legesse, the government spokesman, said the university was not affected.
Government forces also attacked targets in Mekelle on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday this week.
Freelance journalist Samuel Getachew told Al Jazeera in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa that “there does not appear to be any willingness to compromise.”
“The Ethiopian side keeps saying it is targeting a terrorist organization it declared earlier this year. The TPLF says the Ethiopian government is creating some kind of genocide. There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight, ”Getachew said.
“As of Monday, the media noted that three people had been killed as a result of the airstrikes. “
“The whole town is panicking”
Meanwhile, fighting has intensified in Amhara, a neighboring region where the TPLF has seized territory that the government and armed groups allied with Amhara are trying to reclaim.
Residents of Dessie, a large town in Amhara, told Reuters people were fleeing, a day after a TPLF spokesman said his forces were within artillery range of the town.
“The whole town is panicking,” said one resident, adding people who may be leaving. He said he could hear the sound of heavy gunfire Thursday evening and into the morning, and that the price of the bus to the capital Addis Ababa, about 240 miles (385 km) to the south, had more than six-fold.
There are now more than 500,000 internally displaced people in the Amhara region, Atalel Abuhay, communications director of the National Commission for Disaster Risk Management, told Reuters.
Seid Assefa, a local official working at a coordination center for displaced people in Dessie, said 250 people fled fighting in the northern Girana region this week.
“We now have a total of 900 [displaced people] here and we finished our food stocks three days ago.
Leul Mesfin, medical director of Dessie Hospital, told Reuters that two girls and an adult died this week at his facility from injuries from artillery fire in the town of Wuchale, which the government and the TPLF have said. described as the scene of heavy fighting over the past week.
War erupted almost a year ago between federal troops and the TPLF, which ruled Ethiopia for three decades as a multi-ethnic coalition and now controls the northern region.
Thousands of people have been killed and over two million have been forced to flee.
Tigray remains subject to a communication failure, making it difficult to verify claims, while combat areas in Amhara are also largely inaccessible.