The United States said on Wednesday it was “gravely concerned by reports that dozens of civilians were killed or injured during a bombing of a village market in northern Tigray on June 22.”
“We strongly condemn this reprehensible act,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement from Washington D.C. on behalf of the Biden administration.
Price added that “there are also credible reports that security forces denied medical personnel access to the victims of this terrible attack.”
“Denying victims urgently needed medical care is heinous and absolutely unacceptable,” he said. “We urge the Ethiopian authorities to ensure full and unhindered medical access to the victims immediately.”
“We also call for an urgent and independent investigation, as well as remedial action, to hold those responsible for this attack accountable. The United States again urges an immediate ceasefire in Tigray, unhindered humanitarian access, and protection for civilians,” Price added.
Credible reports said on Wednesday that an airstrike killed dozens of people in Ethiopia’s Tigray region on Tuesday and health workers were blocked from traveling to the scene.
The airstrike hit a busy market in the village of Togoga with some reports citing more than 80 civilians bombed to death.
The AP quoted wounded patients being treated at Mekele’s Ayder hospital as telling health workers that “a plane dropped a bomb on Togoga’s marketplace.” It quoted a nurse as saying that the six patients included a 2-year-old child with “abdominal trauma” and a 6-year-old.
“An ambulance carrying a wounded baby to Mekele, almost 60 kilometers (37 miles) away by road, was blocked for two hours and the baby died on the way, the nurse added,” according to the AP.
Hailu Kebede, foreign affairs head for the Salsay Woyane Tigray opposition party and who comes from Togoga, told the AP that one fleeing witness to the attack had counted more than 30 bodies and other witnesses were reporting more than 50 people killed. Many more were said to be wounded in the remote village that’s linked to Mekele in part by challenging stretches of dirt roads.
“It was horrific,” said a staffer with an international aid group who told the AP he had spoken with a colleague and others at the scene. “We don’t know if the jets were coming from Ethiopia or Eritrea. They are still looking for bodies by hand. More than 50 people were killed, maybe more.”
The news agency added that “on Tuesday afternoon, a convoy of ambulances attempting to reach Togoga, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of Mekele, was turned back by soldiers near Tukul, the health workers said. Several more ambulances were turned back later in the day and on Wednesday morning, but one group of medical workers reached the site on Tuesday evening via a different route.”
It said those medical workers were treating 40 wounded people but told colleagues in Mekele that the number of wounded is likely higher as some people fled after the attack. Five of the wounded patients were said to need emergency operations but the health workers were unable to evacuate them.
“We have been asking, but until now we didn’t get permission to go, so we don’t know how many people are dead,” said one of the doctors in Mekele.
The airstrike comes even as the international community warns that millions of people are at risk of famine in Tigray with the United States, the European Union, the United Nations calling on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to embrace peace and dialogue.
But the Prime Minister has rebuffed all peace moves and chosen war and his soldiers have been accused of even using food or famine as a weapon of war.