Humanitarian Aid activists and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front said 56 were killed in an airstrike on a camp for displaced people in Dedebit near the border with Eritrea.
At least 56 people have been killed and 30 wounded in Ethiopia’s Tigray following air strikes on a camp for civilians displaced by the brutal conflict in the north.
In a tweet on Saturday, Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) said “another drone strike” carried out by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s forces at a camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in Dedebit had “taken the lives of more than 56 innocent civilians”.
The victims were people who had previously fled the fighting in western Tigray.
Two humanitarian aid activists told Reuters news agency that the attack in the town of Dedebit, in the northwestern region near the border with Eritrea, took place on Friday evening.
They said many children were also injured in the attack.
Military spokesman Colonel Getnet Adane and government spokesman Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokeswoman, Billene Seyoum, also did not respond to a request for comment.
The government has previously denied targeting civilians in the 14-month conflict with Tigrayan rebel forces.
Earlier on Friday, the government had released several opposition leaders from prison and said it would start dialogue with political opponents to push for reconciliation.
The two humanitarian aid activists said the death toll in Friday’s airstrikes had been confirmed by local authorities. Aid workers sent photos to Reuters taken of the injured people in hospital, including children.
One of the aid workers, who visited Suhul Shire General Hospital, said the camp housed many elderly women and children.
“They told me they were on a bomb in the middle of the night. It was really dark and they couldn’t escape,” the aid worker said.
One aid worker said one of those injured in Friday’s attack was Asefa Gebrehaworia, 75. He cried when he told him how his friend was killed. He is currently being treated for injuries to his left leg and hand.
The fighting has forced Asefa out of his home and now air strikes have destroyed the camp. He chose to move to the camp even though he faced starvation. At least, he said, the camp became a refuge. He had arrived at the refugee camp from the border town of Humera. Unfortunately, the camp was the target of government air strikes.
The United States condemned the latest airstrikes and called for an immediate end to the fighting.
“The ongoing air strikes in Tigray resulting in civilian casualties are unacceptable. We redouble our calls for an immediate end to hostilities, the implementation of inclusive national dialogue, and unhindered access so that aid can reach all Ethiopian communities in need,” the State Department said on Twitter.
According to a document prepared by aid agencies shared with Reuters this week, before the latest attack, at least 146 people were killed and 213 wounded in air strikes in Tigray since October 18.
In Friday’s reconciliation measure, the government freed opposition leaders from several ethnic groups. They include several TPLF leaders.
The TPLF expressed skepticism at Abiy’s call for national reconciliation.
“His daily routine of refusing treatment for helpless children and sending drones targeting civilians contradicts his true claims,” Getachew’s spokesman said on Twitter on Friday.
The TPLF accused federal authorities of imposing an aid blockade on the region, leading to famine and shortages of basic necessities such as fuel and medicine. The government denies blocking the passage of aid convoys.
The European Union said while the release of opposition leaders was a positive step, it was concerned about the ongoing conflict in Tigray.
“All parties should seize the moment to immediately end the conflict and enter into dialogue,” the bloc said in a statement issued by its top representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell.
According to Teklay Gebremichael of the tghat.com website documenting war crimes, the release of prisoners was a “ruse” by Abiy to appease the international community.
“I think it’s important to look at the release of political prisoners in the right context,” Gebremichael said.
“Over the past few months, tens of thousands of Tigrayan and Omoro people have been imprisoned in Addis Ababa alone. By releasing about six or seven people yesterday, Abiy tried to create a positive environment around him to create a ruse to the international community that he was interested in negotiating and resolving conflicts peacefully, while in reality he continued to do so. He bombed civilians and tried to advance militarily to Tigray.”
The brutal conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and been marked by a series of abuses, including massacres and rapes. It has also left a severe humanitarian crisis, with millions displaced and in need of aid.