Ethiopian Tigray rebels say Eritrea has extended its offensive in their region, as diplomats rush to call for peace talks to resolve the nearly two-year conflict.
In a statement Monday, Tigray forces said the Eritrean army launched a “broad offensive” in the direction of the cities of Rama, Zalambessa and Tserona in northeastern Tigray. They called on the people of Tigray to “further intensify their self-defense campaign”.
Communications with the areas affected by the fighting are interrupted. The Associated Press was unable to verify the claims of the Tigray forces.
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Hostilities between Tigray forces and the Ethiopian federal government resumed in late August, breaking a fragile truce that has been in place since March.
“We are seeing the heaviest fighting since the war resumed (Aug.24),” a humanitarian worker based in the city of Rama, Tigray, told AP. “Many civilians were killed and large buildings and infrastructure destroyed, mainly by heavy weapons fired from the Eritrean side.” They spoke anonymously, citing security concerns.
Ethiopian officials have not yet commented on the latest fighting. But Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde told lawmakers on Monday that the government has pledged to end the war and negotiate without any preconditions. “But any provocation will be met with the necessary measures,” he added.
The new fighting has disrupted aid deliveries to Tigray, where 5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. It also saw Eritrea renew its involvement in the Tigray War, which first broke out in November 2020.
Last month, Tigray rebels claimed Eritrea had sent troops across the northern Tigray border. At the time, Mike Hammer, the US special envoy to the Horn of Africa, said Washington was aware of Eritrean troop movements in Tigray and described them as “worrying”.
A diplomat in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, told the AP that about 100,000 Eritrean soldiers, including about 10 mechanized divisions, are involved in the current fighting. Satellite images from last month showed a vast military buildup within Eritrea near the Tigray border.
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Numerous drone strikes have targeted Tigray cities, including the capital Mekele, in recent weeks. Dimtsi Weyane, a Tigray-based broadcaster, showed graphic images of people killed in a drone attack on October 7.
Both the Tigray rebels and the federal government of Ethiopia said last week they were ready to participate in the African Union-mediated peace talks amid reports of heavy fighting in Tigray.
According to the AU, the talks should have started in South Africa on 8 October. But they were delayed as logistical issues and security arrangements were resolved.
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Millions of people in northern Ethiopia, including the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar, have been uprooted from their homes and tens of thousands of people are believed to have been killed by the outbreak of the conflict.