An air raid in Ethiopia’s Tigray region has killed 56 people and injured 30, including children, in a camp for displaced people, two aid workers told Reuters news agency, citing local authorities and witness accounts.
The spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that has been fighting the central government, Getachew Reda, said in a tweet on Saturday, “Another callous drone attack by [Prime Minister] Abiy Ahmed in an IDP [internally displaced people] camp in Dedebit has claimed the lives of 56 innocent civilians so far.”
Another callous drone attack by #AbiyAhmed in an #IDP camp in #Dedebit has claimed the lives of 56 innocent civilians so far. The saddest part of the story is the victims are people displaced from #WesternTigray by the regime’s genocidal campaign. Double jeopardy at its worst!
— Getachew K Reda (@reda_getachew) January 8, 2022
The attack in the town of Dedebit, in the northwest of the region near the border with Eritrea, occurred late on Friday night, said the aid workers, who asked not to be named as they were not authorised to speak to the media.
Military spokesman Colonel Getnet Adane and government spokesman Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum did not respond to a request for comment.
The government has previously denied targeting civilians in the 14-month conflict with rebellious Tigrayan forces.
Earlier on Friday, the government had freed several opposition leaders from prison and said it would begin dialogue with political opponents in order to foster reconciliation.
Both aid workers said the number of dead in Friday’s air raid was confirmed by the local authorities. The aid workers sent Reuters pictures they said they had taken of the wounded in hospital, who included many children.
One of the aid workers, who visited Shire Suhul General Hospital where the injured were brought for treatment, said the camp hosts many old women and children.
“They told me the bombs came at midnight. It was completely dark and they couldn’t escape,” the aid worker said.
One of the aid workers said one of the wounded in Friday’s raid, Asefa Gebrehaworia, 75, burst into tears as he recounted how his friend was killed. He was being treated for injuries to his left leg and hand.
Fighting had forced Asefa out of his home and now the air raid had destroyed the camp, where even though he was facing hunger, at least he had shelter, he told the aid worker. He had arrived in the camp for displaced people from the border town of Humera.
Before the latest attack, at least 146 people have been killed and 213 injured in air raids in Tigray since October 18, according to a document prepared by aid agencies and shared with Reuters this week.
In Friday’s reconciliation move, the government freed opposition leaders from several ethnic groups. They included some leaders of the TPLF.
The TPLF expressed scepticism about Abiy’s call for national reconciliation.
“His daily routine of denying medication to helpless children and of sending drones targeting civilians flies in the face of his self-righteous claims,” its spokesman Getachew tweeted on Friday.
The TPLF accuses federal authorities of imposing an aid blockade on the region, leading to hunger and shortages of essentials like fuel and medicines. The government denies blocking the passage of aid convoys.
The European Union said while the release of opposition leaders was a positive move, it was concerned by the ongoing conflict in Tigray, citing the latest air attack.
“All parties must seize the moment to swiftly end the conflict and enter into dialogue,” the bloc said in a statement issued by its high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell.
According to Teklay Gebremichael from the tghat.com website that documents war crimes, the prisoner release was a “ruse” by Abiy to placate the international community.
“I think it is important to see the release of the political prisoners in its proper context,” Gebremichael told Al Jazeera.
“Over the past couple of months, tens of thousands of Tigrayans and Omoros have been jailed in Addis Ababa alone. By releasing about six or seven people yesterday, [Abiy] tried to create a positive environment around him to kind of create a ruse to the international community that he was interested in negotiations and a peaceful resolution to the conflict, while in fact he continued doing what he had been doing – which is bombing civilians and trying to advance militarily into Tigray.”
The brutal conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and been marked by a litany of abuses, including massacres and rape. It has also left a severe humanitarian crisis in its wake, with millions of people displaced and in need of aid.