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Ethiopia launches new major offensive against Tigray

Members of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) prepare to head to mission in Sanja, Amhara region, near a border with Tigray, Ethiopia, November 9, 2020. (File photo by Reuters)

Ethiopia has launched a new major offensive against the northern region of Tigray, just a week after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was inaugurated for a new five-year term as the leader of Africa’s second-most populous country.

Tigray has been the scene of conflict since November 2020, when the prime minister sent troops there to topple the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), saying the move came in response to attacks on army camps.

Back in June, the government declared an unconditional, unilateral ceasefire in the region. But the TPLF said, “Until all our enemies leave Tigray, we will fight.”

A spokesman for the TPLF said on Saturday there was a “massive move” against the rebels in the northern region of Amhara.

Getachew Reda said there had been “mostly air, drone and artillery bombardment” of rebels, and reported a major troop build-up, saying “tens of thousands are amassed” in northern Amhara including the North Gondar and North Wollo zones. 

“We are confident we will thwart the offensive in all fronts and more,” he said. “We will stand our ground until the siege is lifted.”

Citing humanitarian sources, AFP reported that the bombardments hit several areas of Amhara on Thursday and Friday.

Ahmed was sworn in for a new term on Monday. He has said his government will stand strong and defend “Ethiopia’s honor.”

The latest military build-up is taking place in the areas where Ethiopian forces were present in the early days of the conflict. For months, Ethiopian forces and soldiers from Eritrea were carrying out grievous crimes including rape and the massacre of civilians.

The government expelled seven senior UN officials from the country last week, accusing them of “meddling” in the internal affairs of Ethiopia.

The move prompted concern about the humanitarian response in Tigray, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urging Ethiopia on Wednesday to allow the UN to deliver aid “without hindrance.”

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has in recent days warned that a lack of medical supplies was also having fatal consequences in Tigray. It has also reported alarming levels of malnutrition among children and pregnant women.

Tigray is under a de facto blockade that is preventing most aid from getting in, according to the UN.

Ethiopian authorities blame the TPLF for obstructing deliveries, but the United States said last month that access to essential supplies and services was being denied by the Ethiopian government.

The administration of US President Joe Biden has said the Ethiopian Airlines Group used a commercial airline to ferry arms to Eritrea. He threatened Ethiopia with sanctions if conflict in Tigray persists. The carrier denied the allegation, though.

The conflict in Tigray has killed thousands of people and pushed 400,000 people to the brink of famine, according to analysis by UN agencies and aid groups. Ethiopia’s government, however, has disputed the analysis.

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