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Market Airstrike in Tigray Region of Ethiopia Kills Dozens, Officials Say

Witnesses and medics said that dozens of people were killed in an airstrike by the government on a northern Ethiopian market. This was as fighting intensified in Tigray, where federal forces are trying to control a growing insurgency.

It appeared that the airstrike was one of the most fatal incidents in the eight-month civil conflict, which has damaged the international reputation of Ethiopia‘s Nobel Peace Prize winner leader Abiy Ahmed. The attack took place Tuesday in Togoga. This is 15 miles west Mekelle (the Tigrayan regional capitol), which was about 15 minutes away.

On Wednesday, Tigrayan rebels reacted against the government by shooting down an Ethiopian Air Forces C-130 transport airplane as it approached Mekelle. The plane then crashed into a field approximately 15 miles south of Mekelle according to witnesses and rebels.

It pointed to an intensifying fight in Tigray, where fighters led by Ethiopia’s one-time ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, captured areas south of Mekelle that until recently were controlled by soldiers from Eritrea. The rebels say they have captured several thousand Ethiopian soldiers and were holding them as prisoners of war.

A spokesperson for Mr. Abiy refered questions to the military. It was impossible to reach a spokesperson from Ethiopia’s military for comment.

He had hoped that Mr. Abiy would distract from international criticisms of the Tigray war, which has prompted many stories of massacres and sexual assault, as well as ethnic cleansing. National elections will be held on Monday.

This vote was meant to signal Ethiopia’s departure from decades of autocratic rule. As before, violence in Tigray erupted. As before, the highest price paid by civilians was also paid.

Tsilat Ashaber (30), sat in front of an operating room in Mekelle’s Ayder hospital on Tuesday as doctors tried to save Eldana, her 2-year-old daughter who had been severely injured in the airstrike in Togoga hours before.

Ms. Tsilat, who was selling onions and tomatoes at her street stand, was hit by a bomb in an area that is between shops and restaurants in the village. She claimed it happened around noon on Tuesday.

“We are always living in fear,” she stated, tears rolling down her face.

Although the exact scale of the attack at Togoga wasn’t immediately evident, witness and health workers stated that government soldiers blocked ambulances from reaching Togoga. Only eight people, including Ms. Tsilat’s child, were able reach Mekelle to receive treatment on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, however, regional health officials estimated that 80 people were killed and 43 others had been injured according to a confidential report shared by an Ethiopian official of the United Nations.

Ned Price, a spokesman for the State Department, said that the United States was “gravely concerned” by the reports and that “we strongly condemn this reprehensible act.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross reported that it had assisted the evacuation of Togoga residents who were injured in Red Cross ambulances. A spokeswomen refused to give details about the number of wounded or dead.

Ayder Hospital doctors reported that 33 patients had been treated. Negassie Berthe, 34, grimaced as doctors tried desperately to save him from a badly injured left arm.

Mr. Berhe said, “I heard a jet’s sound and then a bomb landed right in the middle of the crowd.” “I don’t know why.”

Since the weekend, Tigray Defense Forces (the armed wing the T.P.L.F.) stepped up fighting in Tigray. Officials stated that the Tigray Defense Forces — an armed wing of the T.P.L.F. — has increased their operations.

Getachew Reda, an executive member from the T.P.L.F. spoke by phone and said that Tigray forces had attacked four divisions in the Ethiopian Army. He also claimed that his forces held over 3,000 Ethiopian soldiers prisoner of war.

U.N. documents also indicate an increase in violence over the past few days. According to The New York Times, U.N. officials have reported troop movements of large scale in central and northwestern Tigray over the last week.

United Nations received reports Tuesday that Tigrayan rebels were in Adigrat, which is 62 miles north from Mekelle. Later reports said that the town had been retaken in the hands of Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers. According to the Associated Press, a local resident stated that federal police had been seen beating people at the centre of the town.

On top of the war, Tigray is also contending with a huge humanitarian crisis.

The fighting has killed thousands of people, displaced 2 million and pushed the region into the throes of famine — the worst in any country since a 2011 famine gripped neighboring Somalia, according to a senior United Nations official.

He has refused to listen to international requests for peace talks and to end the Tigrayan conflict. The United States placed visa restrictions on a unspecified number of Tigrayan, Eritrean, and Ethiopian officials in an attempt to stop the fighting.

The main focus in Ethiopia this week, however, is on Monday’s national and regional parliamentary election.

The election, which was delayed last year due to the coronavirus epidemic, was seen as a critical test by Mr. Abiy. He had called them the country’s first fair and free vote. __S.38__

After coming into power in 2018, Mr. Abiy made a promise to bring Ethiopia to democracy. He promised to reform electoral laws, remove restrictions on opposition parties, as well as appoint a former prisoner to the head of Ethiopia’s elections board. Monday’s elections featured 46 parties and over 9,000 candidates — a record.

But voting did not take place in about one-fifth of constituencies because of the war in Tigray, ethnic violence in several other regions, and logistical problems. Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest province, was boycotted by the main opposition parties.

It was widely believed that the Prosperity Party, which controls the state apparatus and holds the majority of the seats, would win the majority of the votes and form the next government.

William Davison, Senior Ethiopia Analyst with the International Crisis Group, stated that the latest Tigray massacre “raises even more” the stakes for Mr. Abiy.

“He will need to decide whether to use his mandate to prioritize preventing mass hunger in Tigray,” Mr. Davison said. Or whether he continues to wage a war that seems unwinnable and is likely to result in more civilian suffering.”

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