Dozens killed in Ethiopian air strike on IDP camp in Tigray

Aid workers and TPLF say 56 killed in an air raid on a camp for displaced people in Dedebit near the border with Eritrea.

An elderly woman and her family sit in a shelter at a camp for displaced people
Fatuma Hussein, 65, sits in her shelter with her family at a camp for the internally displaced due to the fighting between the Ethiopian National Defence Force and the Tigray People's Liberation Front forces in Dessie town, Amhara region [File: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters]

At least 56 people have been killed and 30 others wounded in Ethiopia’s Tigray following an air raid on a camp for civilians displaced by the brutal conflict in the northern region, according to rebels and humanitarian workers.

In a tweet on Saturday, Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) said “another callous drone attack” by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s forces on a camp for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in Dedebit had “claimed the lives of 56 innocent civilians”.

The victims were people who had previously fled fighting in western Tigray, he said.

Two aid workers told the Reuters news agency that the attack in the town of Dedebit, in the northwest of the region near the border with Eritrea, occurred late on Friday night.

They said many children were also wounded in the attack.

The aid workers asked not to be named as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

Military spokesman Colonel Getnet Adane and government spokesman Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum also did not respond to a request for comment, the news agency said.

The government has previously denied targeting civilians in the 14-month conflict with rebellious Tigrayan forces.

Earlier on Friday, the government had freed several opposition leaders from prison and said it would begin dialogue with political opponents in order to foster reconciliation.

Both aid workers said the number of dead in Friday’s air raid was confirmed by the local authorities. The aid workers sent Reuters pictures they said they had taken of the wounded in hospital, who included many children.

One of the aid workers, who visited Shire Suhul General Hospital where the injured were brought for treatment, said the camp hosts many old women and children.

“They told me the bombs came at midnight. It was completely dark and they couldn’t escape,” the aid worker said.

One of the aid workers said one of the wounded in Friday’s raid, Asefa Gebrehaworia, 75, burst into tears as he recounted how his friend was killed. He was being treated for injuries to his left leg and hand.

Fighting had forced Asefa out of his home and now the air raid had destroyed the camp, where even though he was facing hunger, at least he had shelter, he told the aid worker. He had arrived in the camp for displaced people from the border town of Humera.

The United States condemned the latest air raid and called for an immediate end to the fighting.

“Ongoing air strikes in Tigray resulting in civilian casualties are unacceptable. We redouble our call for an immediate end to hostilities, the prompt launch of an inclusive national dialogue, and unhindered access so aid can reach all Ethiopian communities in need,” the US Department of State said on Twitter.

Before the latest attack, at least 146 people have been killed and 213 injured in air raids in Tigray since October 18, according to a document prepared by aid agencies and shared with Reuters this week.

‘Self-righteous claims’

In Friday’s reconciliation move, the government freed opposition leaders from several ethnic groups. They included some leaders of the TPLF.

The TPLF expressed scepticism about Abiy’s call for national reconciliation.

“His daily routine of denying medication to helpless children and of sending drones targeting civilians flies in the face of his self-righteous claims,” its spokesman Getachew tweeted on Friday.

The TPLF accuses federal authorities of imposing an aid blockade on the region, leading to hunger and shortages of essentials like fuel and medicines. The government denies blocking the passage of aid convoys.

The European Union said while the release of opposition leaders was a positive move, it was concerned by the ongoing conflict in Tigray, citing the latest air attack.

“All parties must seize the moment to swiftly end the conflict and enter into dialogue,” the bloc said in a statement issued by its high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell.

According to Teklay Gebremichael from the website that documents war crimes, the prisoner release was a “ruse” by Abiy to placate the international community.

“I think it is important to see the release of the political prisoners in its proper context,” Gebremichael told Al Jazeera.

“Over the past couple of months, tens of thousands of Tigrayans and Omoros have been jailed in Addis Ababa alone. By releasing about six or seven people yesterday, [Abiy] tried to create a positive environment around him to kind of create a ruse to the international community that he was interested in negotiations and a peaceful resolution to the conflict, while in fact he continued doing what he had been doing – which is bombing civilians and trying to advance militarily into Tigray.”

The brutal conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and been marked by a litany of abuses, including massacres and rape. It has also left a severe humanitarian crisis in its wake, with millions of people displaced and in need of aid.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies