Ethiopia’s military has carried out an air raid on the capital of the war-torn Tigray region that a hospital official said killed ten people and wounded more than 20.
The government said the attack on Thursday, the latest in a campaign of air bombardments, hit a factory in Mekelle used by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The air force “destroyed the second part of Mesfin Industrial Engineering. The facility was used by TPLF terrorist group for maintaining its military equipment,” government spokeswoman Selamawit Kassa said.
Dr Hayelom Kebede, research director at Mekele’s Ayder Referral Hospital, said a residential area was hit and casualties were inflicted.
“The death toll reaches 10,” Kebede said, up from his earlier count that put the number of dead at six and listed 21 people as injured. He predicted the death toll would rise because medical care is severely constrained.
The Tigrai Communications Affairs Bureau, a TPLF-linked information channel, also reported casualties and said the strike had hit a residential area.
Nahusenay Belay, a Tigray spokesman, denied that the air raid hit a military target and said it struck a “civilian residence”. Three children were among the dead, he said.
Earlier, TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda confirmed the attack on Mekelle and said the rebels’ air defence units were engaging an enemy jet.
A doctor told the Reuters news agency that the attack hit the residential Kebele 5 area.
Photos from the scene appeared to show rescuers pulling bodies from debris.
Tigrayan television screened pictures of Red Cross workers at the site of collapsed brick structures with corrugated iron roofs. Blankets and kettles can be seen among bloodstained wreckage. At one point, gloved volunteers hastily cover a body part with a sheet.
When asked by Reuters for a comment on the alleged civilian deaths, government spokesperson Legesse Tulu replied in a text message: “There is not any intended and deliberate harm on civilians and their properties. The air strike successfully hit its target.”
Much of northern Ethiopia is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is restricted, making battlefield claims difficult to verify independently.
Tigray was pounded by near-daily aerial bombardments last week as the military stepped up its use of air power in the year-long war against the TPLF.
Ethiopia’s government has asserted that the latest air raids have been confined to military targets, but Tigray forces have asserted that civilian facilities including factories and a clinic have been targeted instead.
The government said the facilities bombed in northern and western Tigray were military in nature and aiding the TPLF, the former governing party in the region.
The United Nations said two attacks on Mekelle on October 18 killed three children and wounded several other people. Another person died in a later attack.
Control of the skies, along with superior manpower, is one of the few remaining areas where the federal government holds a military advantage over the rebels.
The bombings have drawn international censure, and disrupted UN access to the region where an estimated 400,000 people face famine-like conditions under a de facto aid blockade.
Meanwhile, fighting continues in Ethiopia’s neighbouring Amhara region after the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a ground offensive there earlier this month, despite international calls for a ceasefire.
Tigray erupted in conflict in November 2020 after Ahmed sent troops to topple the TPLF.
The 2019 Nobel Peace laureate said the move came in response to TPLF attacks on army camps and promised a swift victory, but by late June the rebels had regrouped and retaken most of the region, including Mekelle.