The United Nations (UN) has expressed concern about the situation in Mekelle, the capital city of the Tigray region, northern Ethiopia, as nine people died in airstrikes.
Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, said this at a news conference at the UN headquarters in New York, noting that the situation was calm but tense.
Dujarric said that local health workers had reported that three children were killed and one person injured in an airstrike on the outskirts of Mekelle.
“A second airstrike in Mekelle town later in the day reportedly injured nine people and damaged houses and a nearby hotel.
“Our humanitarian colleagues are alarmed at the intensification of the conflict and once again remind all parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.
“We also call for unrestricted and sustained humanitarian access to all people in need,’’ the UN Correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) quoted Dujarric as saying.
According to him, the United Nations has received alarming reports of aerial attacks in the residential areas of Tigray’s capital, Mekelle.
He said the organisation was still trying to verify the details, but it was worried about the potential impact on civilians in the affected areas.
Dujarric said: “The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, is “deeply concerned over the escalation of the conflict in northern Ethiopia”.
Fighting erupted in Tigray nearly a year ago between the Ethiopian military and forces of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the main political force in the region.
Thousands are feared killed amidst allegations of widespread human rights abuses with more than two million forced to flee their homes.
Over the past few months, humanitarian needs have grown amid killings, looting and destruction of health centres and farming infrastructure, including irrigation systems.
According to Dujarric, the secretary-general is stressing that all parties must avoid the targeting of civilians or civilian infrastructure and reiterated his call for all hostilities to stop.
“He urges the parties to prioritise the welfare of the people and to provide the necessary support for critical humanitarian assistance to flow, including facilitating the movement of fuel and medicines,” Dujarric said.
The lack of essential supplies, especially cash and fuel, is severely disrupting aid operations in Tigray, where more than 400,000 people are now facing famine-like conditions.
Under international humanitarian law, all parties have an obligation to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.
This includes hundreds of humanitarian workers who are working to aid millions of civilians.
Civilians are being “caught up in the fighting and the fighting itself is forcing us to reduce life-saving operations when people need them most, including food distributions, water distribution and health services,” Dujarric said.
The conflict has spilled into the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar, where the ability to reach people in dire need of assistance, has also been hampered.
In the three regions – Tigray, Amhara and Afar – up to seven million people are now in dire need of food assistance, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).
The majority of them, around 5.2 million are in Tigray.
The UN is calling on all parties to urgently allow and facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of relief supplies and aid personnel, to all areas with humanitarian needs, including those affected by the recent fighting.
“This includes fuel and cash, without which humanitarians cannot do their work, and medicines, so our colleagues can reach people who desperately need assistance,” Dujarric said.