The airstrikes on Mekelle were targeting weapons sites used by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), said Billene Seyoum, an Ethiopian government spokesperson.
Ethiopia’s federal government launched a military offensive to oust the TPLF last November and fighting has been ongoing since.
Seyoum added that one of these sites, Mesfin Industrial Engineering, has been “appropriated by the TPLF as a heavy weapons storage, manufacturing and repair site.”
Getachew Reda, spokesperson for the TPLF, responded on Twitter to the airstrike saying it “targeted a residential quarters in Mekelle causing injury to civilians and harm to property.”
Two eyewitnesses told CNN that the airstrikes did hit near Mesfin industrial complex and shattered the windows of a local hotel.
“The whole city is covered with smoke,” one eyewitness said, adding that they heard there were several casualties. CNN has not confirmed independently there are casualties.
At the time, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said through his spokesman Stephane Dujarric that he was deeply concerned over the escalation of the conflict and reiterated his call for all hostilities to stop.
The UN has moved around 100 staff members out of Tigray due to safety concerns, with 400 UN personnel remaining, deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Wednesday.
There are nearly 2,000 aid workers that remain in Tigray, including those from the UN and national and international NGOs, Haq said.
Ethiopia said in late September that it was expelling seven senior United Nations officials, just days after the UN’s aid chief warned that the Tigray region was descending into famine due to the government’s blockade of aid deliveries.
An estimated 18,600 children in Tigray under the age of 5 have been admitted for treatment for severe acute malnutrition (SAM) from February to August this year, according to UNICEF. That’s a 100% increase compared to 2020, it said.
The Ethiopian military has been in control of much of Tigray since November 2020, when it launched a major assault on the region with the support of Eritrean soldiers and local militias in an effort to remove the TPLF from power. It was the last time that airstrikes were launched on Mekelle.
Ethiopia has seen a wave of atrocities over the last 11 months of conflict, which has forced 2 million to flee, fueled famine and left thousands dead. The conflict, by many accounts, bears the hallmarks of genocide.
Bethlehem Feleke reported from Nairobi, Katie Polglase and Gianluca Mezzofiore reported from London. Sheena McKenzie wrote in London. Lindsay Isaac contributed to this report