Ethiopian forces bombed Mekelle, the capital of Tigray, on Monday, escalating a war that has caused thousands of dead and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
The air raids on Monday were the first since the conflict between the Ethiopian Defense Forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) erupted last November.
TPLF, which is the region’s former ruling party, said the raids were designed to inflict civilian casualties.
“Monday is market day in Mekelle & the intention is all too palpable,” TPLF spokesperson Getachew wrote on Twitter.
Reports quoted diplomats and humanitarian workers as confirming that the air strikes occurred in the Tigrayan capital, even as the United States, the United Nations and other regional and international organizations continue to call for peace in the region.
The reports said there were two airstrikes, the first one in the morning on the outskirts of Mekelle near a cement factory, and the second one around midday in the city center near the Planet Hotel, which is often used by top officials from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
The Ethiopian government had neither confirmed nor denied that it carried out the raids at the time of writing this report.
The air strikes come only days after U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Thursday met with President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya at the White House to address the “strong U.S.-Kenyan partnership,” and both leaders agreed to “advance peaceful resolutions to the conflicts in Somalia and Ethiopia.”
“Together they discussed their shared commitment to defending democracy and human rights, advancing regional peace and security, and accelerating economic prosperity through climate smart solutions and the use of renewable energy resources,” the White House said in a readout on Thursday night.
They also discussed greater cooperation on vaccine manufacturing and production on the African continent in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic and preparing for future health security threats.
“As President Biden announced today’s donation of over 17 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the African Union. Kenya has received 2.8 million vaccines and is slated to get additional Pfizer doses in the next few months as part of the pledge President Biden made at the G7 earlier this year to donate 500 million vaccine doses globally,” the White House noted.
It said President Biden and President Kenyatta “underscored the need to bring additional transparency and accountability to domestic and international financial systems and to advance peaceful resolutions to the conflicts in Somalia and Ethiopia.”
At a White House press briefing on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked when would president Biden impose the sanctions he authorized on September 17 against those undermining peace and stability in Ethiopia.
“I don’t have an update on “if” and “when,” and I know that’s kind of what you’re asking. We often sign an executive order — or the President may sign executive orders to prepare for and have the ability to sign into law sanctions quickly, because the executive order would have already been signed,” she said. “As we’ve talked about in the past, obviously what’s happening in Ethiopia are — it’s an atrocity. It’s horrific. It’s something that, frankly, I’m happy you’re asking about because there hasn’t been probably enough attention here in the United States to what’s happening. But I don’t have an update. It’s often an interagency process, and I don’t have an update on what — when a determination will be made.”
The United States estimates that hundreds of thousands of people remain at an increased risk of famine in Ethiopia and as the war in the Tigray region worsens and expands to other regions, many more would be exposed to human rights abuses, hunger and death.