NAIROBI, Kenya — New airstrikes hit the capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray region and another community Wednesday, as video from Mekele showed injured people with bloodied faces being rushed to vehicles and thick black smoke rising in the sky. Ethiopia’s government said it targeted facilities to make and repair weapons, which a spokesman for the rival Tigray forces denied.
Meanwhile, the United Nations said it is slashing by more than half its Tigray presence as an Ethiopian government blockade halts humanitarian aid efforts and people die from lack of food.
The war in Africa’s second-most populous country has ground on for nearly a year between Ethiopian and allied forces and the Tigray ones who long dominated the national government before a falling-out with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner.
At least 14 people were injured in the airstrikes in Mekele and three were in critical condition, Hayelom Kebede, the former director of Tigray’s flagship Ayder Referral Hospital, said.
“Indeed there have been air-strikes in Mekele today,” Ethiopian government spokesman Legesse Tulu said, adding that they targeted facilities at the Mesfin Industrial Engineering site that Tigray forces use to make and repair heavy weapons. Legesse said the airstrikes had “no intended harm to civilians.”
Another airstrike hours later hit Agbe between the communities of Hagere Selam and Tembien, he said, describing the site as a “center of military training and heavy artillery depot.”
A Tigray spokesman denied the Mekele site was related to weapons. “Not at all,” Kindeya Gebrehiwot said, calling it a garage “with many old tires. That is why it is still blazing.”
Despite pleas from the U.N. and others to allow basic services and humanitarian aid to Tigray’s 6 million people, Ethiopia’s government this week called those expectations “absurd” while the Tigray forces now fight in the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced there, widening the deadly crisis.