NAIROBI, KENYA (AP) – An airstrike by Ethiopia’s air force hit a kindergarten in the country’s embattled Tigray region, causing deaths and injuries on Friday, according to local broadcasters. It was the latest escalation of a conflict that has created a humanitarian crisis for millions of people.
Tigray Television quoted witnesses saying the afternoon attack hit a kindergarten called Red Kids Paradise in the Tigrayan capital of Mekele. It aired graphic images of children and adults with dismembered bodies in the aftermath of the attack.
Homes near the kindergarten were also hit in the strike, broadcaster Dimtsi Weyane reported.
Tigrayan officials called the airstrike “a heartless, sadistic” assault. “This vicious regime has outdone itself with today’s deliberate targetting of a children’s building,” they said in a statement.
That statement didn’t say how many people were killed in the airstrike. But the director of Mekele’s Ayder Hospital, Kibrom Gebreselassie, said on Twitter that two children are among at least four people killed.
“More casualties are arriving. The total number so far in our hospital is 13,” he said.
The AP hasn’t been able to independently verify the footage. Ethiopian authorities didn’t immediately comment on the report.
But Ethiopia’s Government Communications Service said in a statement earlier on Friday that the government will “take action targetting the military forces that are the source of the anti-peace sentiment of the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front”. It warned people in Tigray to stay away from military equipment and training facilities used by Tigray forces.
The report of a strike on a kindergarten comes amid a resumption of fighting between Ethiopian federal forces and Tigray fighters. Both sides accused each other of restarting the war on Wednesday after a lull in fighting since June 2021. The conflict in Tigray, which began in November 2020, has killed thousands in Africa’s second-most populous country, which holds more than 115 million people.
The conflict had calmed in recent months amid slow-moving mediation efforts. But last week the spokeswoman for Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told journalists that Tigray authorities were “refusing to accept peace talks”. Ethiopia’s government has said it’s ready for talks, but insists the African Union must lead the mediation efforts.
Tigray authorities have criticised the African Union’s efforts and urgently sought the resumption of telephone, banking and other services that have been largely cut off since the war began. The statement by Tigrayan authorities after Friday’s airstrike charged that the federal government isn’t interested in peace talks.
The conflict has created a humanitarian crisis for millions of people affected by the fighting in the Amhara and neighbouring Afar regions, while thousands of Tigrayans now live in refugee camps in Sudan.