Witnesses: Airstrike in Ethiopia’s Tigray kills more than 50

Wednesday, June 23, 2021
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Health workers in Ethiopia’s Tigray region say an airstrike has hit a busy village market. AP PHOTO

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — An airstrike hit a busy market in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray village of Togoga on Tuesday and killed at least 51 people, according to health workers who said soldiers blocked medical teams from traveling to the scene.

An official with Tigray’s health bureau told The Associated Press that more than 100 other people were wounded, more than 50 seriously, and at least 33 people were still missing. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of concerns about retaliation.

The alleged airstrike comes amid some of the fiercest fighting in the Tigray region since the conflict began in November as Ethiopian forces supported by those from neighboring Eritrea pursue Tigray’s former leaders. A military spokesman and the spokeswoman for Ethiopia’s prime minister, Billene Seyoum, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wounded patients being treated at Ayder hospital in the regional capital, Mekele, told doctors and a nurse that a plane dropped a bomb on Togoga’s marketplace. The patients included a 2-year-old child with “abdominal trauma” and a 6-year-old, the nurse said. An ambulance carrying a wounded baby to Mekele, almost 60 kilometers (37 miles) away by road, was blocked for two hours and the baby died on the way, the nurse added, speaking on condition of anonymity because of concerns about retaliation.

Hailu Kebede, foreign affairs head for the Salsay Woyane Tigray opposition party and who comes from Togoga, told the AP that one fleeing witness to the attack had counted more than 30 bodies in the remote village that’s linked to Mekele in part by challenging stretches of dirt roads.

“It was horrific,” said a staffer with an international aid group who told the AP he had spoken with a colleague and others at the scene. “We don’t know if the jets were coming from Ethiopia or Eritrea. They are still looking for bodies by hand.”

On Tuesday afternoon, a convoy of ambulances attempting to reach Togoga, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of Mekele, was turned back by soldiers near Tukul, the health workers said. Several more ambulances were turned back later in the day and on Wednesday morning, but one group of medical workers reached the site on Tuesday evening via a different route.

“We have been asking, but until now we didn’t get permission to go, so we don’t know how many people are dead,” said one of the doctors in Mekele.

Another doctor said the Red Cross ambulance he was traveling in on Tuesday while trying to reach the scene was shot at twice by Ethiopian soldiers, who held his team for 45 minutes before ordering them back to Mekele.

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