November 15, 2020
By DW English
Several rockets have hit near the airport in Eritrea’s capital city of Asmara. The rockets, fired from Ethiopia’s Tigray region, are the latest escalation in a conflict that threatens to destabilize the Horn of Africa.
Multiple rockets fired from Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region hit the capital of neighboring Eritrea on Saturday, five diplomats have said, as the conflict between government forces and a separatist group spilled beyond Ethiopia’s borders.
At least two of the rockets hit the Asmara airport on Saturday evening, three of the diplomats said.
However, the United States embassy contradicted those reports, saying there were “no indications the airport was struck.”
Nevertheless, it did confirm reports of “a series of loud noises” in the vicinity and told US citizens in Eritrea to remain in their homes on Sunday.
The leader of Ethiopia’s Tigray region confirmed the rocket attack to Reuters. President Debretsion Gebremichael added that his forces have been fighting Eritrean forces “on several fronts” for the past few days.
Eritrea accused of aiding Ethiopia
Gebremichael’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), has accused Eritrea of providing military support to the Ethiopian government and sending troops across the border, allegations that Eritrea has denied.
“We are not part of the conflict,” Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed told Reuters news agency.
Earlier on Saturday, a senior member of the TPLF had threatened retaliatory “missile attacks” on Asmara and the Eritrean port city of Massawa “to foil military any movement.”
The rocket strikes happened hours after the TPLF, considered a rebel group by the Ethiopian government, claimed attacks on two airports in the neighboring Amhara region of Ethiopia.
“Yesterday evening we’ve inflicted heavy damages on the military components of the Gondar and Bahir Dar airports,” Getachew Reda, a spokesperson of the TPLF, said in a statement Saturday.
“As long as the attacks on the people of Tigray do not stop, the attacks will intensify,” he added.
Both airports in the Amhara region are used for military as well as civilian aircraft.
The federal government acknowledged the attacks, saying the airport areas have sustained damages. A doctor said that two soldiers were killed and at least 15 people were injured.
The conflict so far
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military offensive in the Tigray region on November 4, after accusing Tigrayan forces of attacking federal troops based in the northern region, which borders Eritrea and Sudan.
He had vowed a quick and decisive victory while senior military officials had assured the conflict would be contained in the region.
Ethiopia has been carrying out airstrikes in Tigray, targeting arms depots and equipment controlled by TPLF forces. The federal government says its military operations are aimed at restoring the rule of law in the region.
So far, the fighting has killed hundreds of people on both sides and displaced thousands of others, many of whom are fleeing into Sudan, threatening to destabilize other parts of Ethiopia and the wider Horn of Africa region.
Abiy’s government has dismissed international calls for the cessation of hostilities, saying the TPLF will have to be disarmed before talks could begin.
Tigray is a heavily armed region that played a dominant role in the Ethiopian government and military for over three decades. It fought a brutal border war with Eritrea from 1998 to 2000.
Abiy took power in 2018 and won the Nobel Peace Prize the following year for his efforts to initiate a rapprochement with Eritrea.
Since Abiy became the prime minister, Tigray’s power in the country’s politics has waned and the TPLF has complained of being scapegoated for the country’s woes.
Tensions escalated in September when Tigray held regional elections in defiance of the federal government, which called the vote “illegal.”
adi,ab/sms (AFP, Reuters, dpa)