The capital of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, Mekele, was hit by an air strike on Tuesday, a Tigrayan rebel spokesman and a hospital official said on Twitter.
The strike, which could not be independently verified, comes two days after the Tigray rebels said they were ready to participate in African Union (AU)-brokered peace talks with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government after a war that has been going on since November 2020.
“Abiy Ahmed’s drones targeted the Adi Haki campus of the University of Mekele,” Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigray rebels, assured on Twitter.
Another rebel spokesman, Kindeya Gebrehiwot, also claimed that the University of Mekélé had been “bombed”, causing injuries and material damage.
This strike “comes after the government of Tigray set up a negotiating team” and declared itself ready for “peace talks.
Kibrom Gebreselassie, head of a hospital in the Tigray region, also said on Twitter that Mekele was hit “by a drone strike” early this morning.
“One injured person has arrived at Ayder hospital. The total number of victims is not yet known,” he wrote.
Journalists do not have access to northern Ethiopia and the telecommunications networks there operate very randomly, making independent verification impossible.
The Ethiopian government has not yet officially responded.
The fighting in northern Ethiopia has been taking place on several fronts since hostilities resumed after a five-month truce on August 24, with both sides blaming each other.
The rebels accuse the Ethiopian and Eritrean armies of launching a joint offensive from Eritrea, which borders northern Tigray, and previously assisted Ethiopia’s forces in the first phase of the conflict.
– Opportunity for peace –
The Tigray rebels said Sunday they were ready for AU-brokered talks with the Ethiopian government. The international community, including the United Nations and the U.S. Secretary of State, called on Monday to seize the “opportunity” for peace in Ethiopia.
Sunday’s statement said a negotiating team including Getachew Reda and General Tsadkan Gebretensae, former chief of staff of the Ethiopian army now at the Central Military Command in Tigray, is “ready to be deployed without delay.
Earlier this month, Tigray rebel leader Debretsion Gebremichael proposed a conditional truce that would allow for “unhindered humanitarian access” and the restoration of essential services in Tigray, which is suffering from food shortages and a lack of electricity, communications and banking services.
In a letter to the UN secretary-general, he also called for the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from all of Ethiopia and Tigray.
In March, the UN said that more than 300 civilians had been killed and almost as many wounded in the previous three months in a series of aerial bombardments in northern Ethiopia, particularly in the Tigray region.
The government has accused the Tigray rebels in the past of staging civilian deaths following air strikes and has insisted that it was only targeting military sites.
The conflict in northern Ethiopia erupted in November 2020, when Abiy Ahmed, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, sent the federal army to Tigray to dislodge dissident authorities in the region, accusing them of attacking military bases.
Initially defeated, rebel forces in Tigray regained control of most of the region during 2021 in a counteroffensive that spilled over into Amhara and Afar. They then retreated to Tigray.
The toll of the conflict in Tigray is unknown, but it has displaced more than two million people and plunged hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians into near-starvation conditions, according to the UN.
The renewed fighting has completely disrupted the flow of humanitarian aid by road and air to the Tigray region and its neighbors in Amhara and Afar, according to the United Nations.