The UN children’s agency UNICEF on Saturday condemned an Ethiopian airstrike that “hit a kindergarten” in the rebel region of Tigray, which killed at least four people, including two children.
The government denied targeting civilian areas during Friday’s airstrike and accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of organizing the killing.
“UNICEF strongly condemns the airstrike … (which) hit a kindergarten, killed several children and injured others,” the agency’s executive director, Catherine Russell, said on Twitter.
“Once again, an escalation of violence in northern Ethiopia has left children paying the heaviest price. For nearly two years, children and their families in the region have endured the pain of this conflict. It must end.”
The bombing came just days after fighting broke out on Tigray’s southern border between government forces and TPLF rebels, ending a five-month ceasefire and shattering hopes for peace talks.
The TPLF said the airstrike, the first in many months on Tigray, destroyed a kindergarten and hit a residential area.
The government said only military sites were targeted and accused the TPLF of “dumping fake body bags in civilian areas” to maximize outrage.
Kibrom Gebreselassie, chief clinical director of the Ayder Referral Hospital in Mekele, told ETN that four people died in the strike, including two children.
Nine others were treated for injuries, he said.
Tigrai TV, a local network, said the death toll had reached seven and broadcast images of mangled playground equipment and a brightly colored compound in ruins at the apparent site of the strike.
The claims could not be independently verified, as access to northern Ethiopia is severely restricted.
‘Respect international law’
The EU condemned the strike and called for a peaceful settlement of the 21-month war.
“I once again urge you to respect international humanitarian law. Citizens are #NotATarget,” EU Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarcic said on Twitter.
In March, the UN said at least 304 civilians had been killed in airstrikes in northern Ethiopia in the three months before.
The UN human rights agency has warned that disproportionate attacks on non-military targets could amount to war crimes.
Ethiopia’s Air Force operates the only known military aircraft over the skies of the country.
A ceasefire in March halted the worst of the bloodshed and allowed aid convoys to slowly return to Tigray, where millions are starving and running out of fuel and medicine, according to the UN.
But on Wednesday, the warring sides accused each other of firing first as new offensives erupted along Tigray’s southern border.
The flare-up alarmed the international community, which has pushed both sides to peacefully resolve the war in Africa’s second most populous country.
The conflict has claimed untold numbers of victims, with widespread reports of atrocities, including massacres and sexual violence.
Abiy sent troops to Tigray in November 2020 to overthrow the TPLF and accused the region’s former ruling party of orchestrating attacks on federal army camps.