NAIROBI: The capital of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region was hit by an airstrike on Tuesday, hospital officials and Tigrayan rebels said.
The reported strike on Mekele came just days after the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) said it was ready for a ceasefire and talks with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government after nearly two years of war.
“AbiyAhmed’s drones targeted the Adi Haki campus of Mekelle University,” TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said on Twitter.
Another TPLF spokesperson, Kindeya Gebrehiwot, also said on Twitter that Mekele University had been “bombed”, causing injuries and property damage, which was still being assessed.
“This is happening after the Tigray government set up a negotiating team and declared itself ready for peace talks,” he said.
Kibrom Gebreselassie, a senior official at Ayder Hospital in Tigray, also said on Twitter that there was “an early morning drone attack” on Mekele.
“An injured patient has arrived in Ayder. The total number of victims is not yet known,” he said.
AFP was unable to independently verify the claims. Access to northern Ethiopia is severely restricted and Tigray has suffered a communications blackout for more than a year.
There was no immediate comment from government officials.
Tigray has been hit by several airstrikes since fighting resumed in late August between government forces and their allies and TPLF rebels in northern Ethiopia.
The return to combat shattered a March truce that had halted the worst of the bloodshed and dashed hopes of a peaceful resolution to a war that began nearly two years ago.
The new offensives have also drawn in Eritrean troops and halted aid deliveries to Tigray, where the UN says a lack of food, fuel and medicine is causing a humanitarian disaster.
Both sides accused the other of firing first, and fighting spread from southern Tigray to other fronts further north and west.
On Sunday, the TPLF said it was ready for a ceasefire and would accept an African Union-led peace process, removing an obstacle to negotiations with Abiy’s government.
The TPLF said a negotiating team including Getachew and General Tsadkan Gebretensae, a former Ethiopian army chief now in Tigray’s central military command, was “ready to deploy without delay”.
The international community – including UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, AU Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken – has urged the warring parties to seize the moment of peace .
Addis Ababa has yet to officially comment on the opening.
The Ethiopian government has previously said it is ready for unconditional talks “anytime, anywhere”, brokered by the AU, which is headquartered in Addis Ababa.
Countless civilians have been killed since war broke out in Africa’s second most populous country, and grave violations of civilian rights by all sides have been documented.
In March, the UN said at least 304 civilians had been killed in the previous three months in airstrikes “apparently carried out by the Ethiopian Air Force”.
The UN human rights office has documented aerial bombardments and drone strikes on refugee camps, a hotel and a market, and warned that disproportionate attacks on non-military targets could amount to crimes of war.
The government has accused the TPLF of staging civilian deaths in airstrikes to manufacture outrage, and insists it only targets military sites.
Abiy, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, sent troops to Tigray in November 2020 to overthrow the TPLF in response to what he said were attacks by the region’s former ruling party on refugee camps. the federal army.
But the TPLF retook most of Tigray in a surprise return in June 2021.
It then spread to neighboring Afar and Amhara regions before the fighting reached a stalemate.