Ethiopia launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray region on Wednesday, stepping up a campaign to weaken rebellious Tigrayan forces in an almost year-old war.
Tigrai Television, controlled by the region’s Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), said the attack targeted the centre of Mekelle but gave no details of casualties or damage.
It posted photographs of what appeared to be plumes of billowing smoke and said in a statement on Facebook that the strike was at 10:24 am.
Ethiopia’s government later said the air strike targeted buildings where Tigrayan forces were repairing armament. Those forces said the attack showed the government’s desperation.
“They are desperate on the war front,” said TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael. “My interpretation is they are bombing us because they are losing on the ground and it’s their reprisal. That they are bombing shows they don’t care about Tigrayan civilians.”
He spoke to Reuters by satellite phone from an undisclosed location. He said he did not have information on casualties.
The two sides have been fighting for almost a year in a war that killed thousands of people and displaced more than two million.
Citing an eyewitness to the strike, a humanitarian source in Mekelle told Reuters the strike hit the compound Mesfin Industrial Engineering PLC.
TPLF leader Debretsion said the strike did not hit the engineering complex, but hit another private company’s compound.
The report of a strike comes two days after air strikes on the cit. Rebellious Tigrayan forces accuse the Ethiopian government of launching strikes. Though a government official initially denied any strikes, state-run media later reported the air force attacked.
The area where Wednesday’s strike occurred is called 05 Kebelle, south of the Messebo Cement Factory, near the location of one of Monday’s strikes.
The news follows heavier fighting in two other Ethiopian regions, where the central government’s military is trying to recover territory taken by the TPLF, which recaptured Mekelle and most of Tigray several months ago.
In July, the TPLF pushed into Amhara and Afar with several hundred thousand more people fleeing their homes, according to UN estimates.
On October 11, the TPLF said the Ethiopian military launched an offensive to dislodge Tigrayan fighters from Amhara, following a barrage of air strikes the previous week.
The military last week “they (the TPLF) have opened war on all fronts” adding the military was inflicting heavy casualties.
“The federal air strikes on Mekelle appear to be part of efforts to weaken Tigray’s armed resistance, which recently made gains in eastern Amhara region, with fighting ongoing in some areas,” said Will Davison, a senior analyst on Ethiopia at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, a think-tank.
“Along with superior manpower, control of the skies is one of the few remaining areas of military advantage for the federal government,” Davison said.