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Food aid convoy headed for Ethiopia's Tigray attacked: UN's WFP

A tank damaged during the fighting between Ethiopia's National Defense Force (ENDF) and Tigray forces stands on the outskirts of Humera town in Ethiopia, on July 1, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) says a convoy carrying food for Ethiopia's conflict-ridden region of Tigray came under attack at the weekend, as a humanitarian crisis is looming in the northern region.

The UN food agency said in a statement on Monday that the 10-vehicle convoy was attacked about 115 kilometers (70 miles) from the northeastern town of Semera, the capital of the Afar region, "while attempting to move essential humanitarian cargo into Tigray region" a day earlier.

"WFP has suspended movement of all convoys from Semera until the security of the area can be assured and the drivers can proceed safely," WFP said, adding that the agency is working with local officials to determine who was behind the attack.

This comes as the UN has already warned that Tigray desperately needs aid and that relief is being blocked by federal troops at government checkpoints leading to the conflict zone.

The Ethiopian authorities have defended the military restrictions on transportation to and from the conflict zones, citing security concerns.

The government insists the aid convoys headed to Tigray need to be inspected for arms.

Ethiopia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement last Friday claiming that international aid groups operating in the region were in fact arming the rebel forces.

In recent weeks, the route via Semera into Tigray had also become critical for aid delivery after two key bridges along other routes were destroyed in late June.

Fighting erupted in Tigray in November when the government accused the People's Liberation Front (TPLF) --once the region’s powerful ruling party--of attacking military bases across the north.

Three weeks later, the government declared victory when it gained control of the regional capital, Mekelle. TPLF forces, who had retreated to the mountainous areas around the Tigrayan capital, however, continued to fight the government forces supported by Eritrean troops.

The United Nations says the fighting has already left thousands of people dead and pushed 400,000 into famine.

TPLF retook the regional capital Mekelle and most of Tigray at the end of June after the government pulled out its soldiers and declared a now faltering ceasefire.

TPLF, which had played a major role in Ethiopian politics before Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power, sees itself as a strong force in the region.

The regional governments in Amhara and three other regions have announced that they would be fighting alongside Addis Ababa against TPLF.

They said that they were mobilizing their armed forces to strengthen the federal troops in their new military campaign targeting the TPLF fighters in Tigray.

An unnamed spokesman said Tigrayan forces have carried out a "very limited action" in the Afar region targeting special forces and militia fighters from Oromia region at the weekend.  

A state media report published Saturday also accused the TPLF of blocking aid into Tigray via Afar using "heavy shelling" and "heavy artillery."

However, TPLF’s spokesman Getachew Reda denied any aid delivery had been disrupted, saying the fighting was not near any aid routes.

The latest development comes as Ethiopian authorities have arrested hundreds of people on suspicion of supporting Tigrayan forces in the country's restive region.

Dozens of rights groups and lawyers have described the latest wave of detentions as a nationwide crackdown on ethnic Tigrayans.

Addis Ababa Police Commissioner Getu Argaw told state media on Saturday that 323 people "suspected of helping the TPLF in various activities have been arrested."

Thousands of people have so far been killed in Tigray, according to the International Crisis Group think tank, and around 50,000 Ethiopians have fled to refugee camps across the border in Sudan.

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