Fighting in Ethiopia’s nearly two-year Tigray war has erupted along a new front near Sudan, the government said on Wednesday, after a ceasefire collapsed a week ago.
Medics also reported fresh air strikes on Mekelle, capital of northern Tigray region, where local forces have battled Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s national army in a conflict killing thousands, smashing infrastructure and exacerbating hunger.
A government statement said the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the region, had “launched an invasion” towards areas it said were in the Amhara region and referred to as Wag, Wolqait and the Sudanese border.
The fertile area is claimed by both Amhara and Tigray regions. The Tigrayans call it western Tigray.
Getachew Reda, a spokesperson for the TPLF, tweeted that the government was “making up stories so it’d get away scot-free in the eyes of the international community.”
The party had said last week they were expecting a major attack from that direction and that skirmishes in the south were a feint.
A medical worker and an aid worker reported three explosions late on Tuesday in the city of Mekelle.
One hit a neighbourhood near Mekelle General Hospital, tweeted Kibrom Gebreselassie, chief executive of Ayder General Hospital. He said Ayder had received some casualties.
The extent of damage and casualties was unclear, although an aid worker said at least two people had been injured.
Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu, military spokesperson Colonel Getnet Adane and the prime minister’s spokesperson Billene Seyoum are yet to comment on the strikes.
Getachew, the TPLF spokesperson, said on Twitter that at least three bombs had been dropped and that the Mekelle General Hospital was among the targets.
The latest strike follows a hit on a children’s play area on Friday that killed seven people, including women and children.
Almost all of Tigray’s 5.5 million people need food aid, but no humanitarian deliveries have entered for nine days, two United Nations officials said.
On Tuesday, Getachew said an offensive against the TPLF had been broken and a counter-attack launched. He underscored the devastation in the region, which has not had banking, phone or electricity services for more than a year.
Fuel restrictions have also limited aid distribution, while patients are dying for lack of medicine and equipment.
Restoring services is a key demand of the TPLF before peace talks. The government said it wants talks to begin without conditions. But after a week of fighting hopes for a peace deal have faded.
On Saturday, the Ethiopian government communication service said it had pulled its forces out of the town of Kobo, in the Amhara region bordering Tigray, blaming the TPLF for sending “human waves” against the town and endangering civilians.
The government said Tigrayan forces were attacking in two directions – along the border with Amhara to the south and along the border with Afar to the east.
The eruption in the west would mean there has been fighting in all directions except to the north, along the border with Eritrea.
Eritrea previously intervened in the conflict to support Ethiopia’s military, sending large numbers of troops into Tigray, where rights investigators said they were responsible for looting, mass killings of civilians and gang rapes – allegations Eritrea always denied.
In Getachew’s speech to regional media in Tigray, he said that Ethiopian soldiers had recently been sent into Eritrea.
Ethiopian government and military spokespeople as well as Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel are yet to comment on the allegations.