ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) – The Ethiopian military said on Thursday it was responsible for a deadly airstrike in a busy market in the Tigray region. Health workers said the attack killed at least 64 people, including children, but the military insisted only fighters were targeted.
Doctor who made it to Togoga village market after Ethiopian soldiers prevented medical teams from responding to Tuesday’s attack described “horrific” scene of seriously injured people lying on the ground, crying in pain without medical care.
“It was very traumatic,” he told The Associated Press. “I think most of the patients died because we were late there, because care was not available.”
Most of the patients taken to regional hospitals were not critical, he said: “The critical patients were already dead.” Like others, he spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
A military spokesman, Col. Getnet Adane, told reporters that fighters supporting former leaders in the Tigray region gathered to celebrate Martyrs Day when the airstrike took place.
“The Ethiopian Air Force uses the latest technology, so it carried out a precision strike which was successful,” he said.
But the doctor who arrived at the scene said “most of the patients we found were mothers, children and elderly fathers. There were few young men.
The airstrike injured more than 100 people, half of them seriously, said a regional health official. Health workers said Ethiopian forces prevented medical teams from intervening and fired at a Red Cross ambulance trying to reach the scene.
Bodies were still being removed from the rubble and dozens of survivors still arrived at regional hospitals with shrapnel and blunt wounds two days after the airstrike, a doctor in the regional capital Mekele said. The International Committee of the Red Cross has called the transport of the seriously injured to Mekele “a matter of life and death”.
Even on Thursday, United Nations spokesman Stéphane Dujarric told reporters that the UN still had not been able to reach the scene. “Between the fighting and the different groups on the ground, we need permission to go and we just couldn’t get it,” he said.
The airstrike, one of the worst massacres of the war, came amid the fiercest fighting in Tigray since the conflict began in November as Ethiopian forces, backed by neighboring Eritrea, are suing former leaders of the country. Tiger.
The Ethiopian army spokesman denied claims of gains by Tigray fighters in recent days, saying Ethiopian forces had been deployed to other locations for Monday’s national elections.
The United States and the European Union condemned the airstrike in Togoga that left children, including a one-year-old baby. screaming in pain.
“Wrongdoing,” the US State Department said. “Denying victims urgently needed medical care is heinous and absolutely unacceptable. We urge the Ethiopian authorities to immediately guarantee full and unhindered medical access to the victims. We also call for an urgent and independent investigation.
The United States has also called for an immediate ceasefire in Tigray, where thousands of civilians have been killed and 350,000 people are now facing one of the world’s worst famines in years.
“At least 33,000 children in inaccessible parts of Tigray suffer from severe malnutrition and risk imminent death without immediate help,” the latest UN humanitarian update said on Thursday.
Ethiopia says aid is being provided to most of Tigray’s 6 million people, but aid workers said soldiers have repeatedly denied them access to parts of the region.
With Ethiopia recently declared the former ruling Tigray party a terrorist group, Tigrayans, aid workers and others fear that anyone considered to be linked to Tigray fighters, including civilians, could be targeted.
Tigrayans were dismayed by Ethiopia’s claim that the airstrike was only targeting combatants.
“It’s an insult to the people and salt on the wounds, you know? Said Hailu Kebede, a former Togoga resident and leader of the opposition party Salsay Woyane Tigray. He described how his brother, who has a store in the market, ran for his life as his neighboring house was destroyed.
“We know the area. I grew up there. There were no fighters, ”Hailu said. “The destroyed houses are those of my friends and family. “
A friend of his lost a child in the airstrike while another child had his hand amputated, he said.
The actual death toll from the airstrike could be even higher as some people likely took the dead to their homes in their neighboring villages and buried them without notifying regional officials, Hailu said.