The Ethiopian military has asked all civilians to leave the capital of the Tigray region, Mekelle, on Sunday, November 22, stating that they would begin an offensive against the city after 72 hours if the ruling Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) did not surrender. The military announced that it would encircle the city and may attack it with artillery as they attempt to end a three-week war against the TPLF. The military has warned that while it has avoided targeting areas that would risk civilian casualties in the past, they would reconsider this policy in Mekelle.
The government advance on Mekelle comes following the capture of the towns of Axum and Adwa, as well as the collapse of a three-day deadline set by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for the TPLF to surrender. The TPLF also claimed responsibility for a rocket attack against the city of Bahir Dar (Amhara region) during the early hours of Friday, November 20, stating that they would continue to carry out attacks against airports that are being used for military operations against TPLF forces. Local authorities stated that no damages had resulted from the rockets.
Further military clashes are likely in and around the Tigray region in the medium term, with a realistic possibility of civilian harm in major flashpoint areas.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that he had ordered a military offensive in the Tigray Region on November 4, after accusing security forces aligned with the regional Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) administration of attacking Ethiopian National Defense Forces' (ENDF) positions in the state. The operation follows two years of escalating tensions between the TPLF and the federal government in Addis Ababa, which they had previously dominated before the appointment of Abiy as prime minister in 2018, amid claims that the region was being marginalized by his sweeping reforms program. However, tensions reached a high point in September when the TPLF staged their own local elections in the Tigray region in defiance of a decision by the government to suspend national polls due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The federal government subsequently declared the vote illegal and the upper house of Ethiopia's parliament voted to withhold budgetary subsidies to Tigray in early October. Amid the rising tensions, regional authorities had issued a statement on November 3 accusing Addis Ababa of planning a war in the Tigray region.
Although no official casualty figures have been confirmed, fatalities are reported to have rapidly reached the hundreds and have been rising as fighting continues. As well as intense fighting in western areas of the region, particularly around Dansheha and Humera, there have also been allegations of attacks on civilians in some areas. On November 12, rights group Amnesty International claimed that scores of civilians had been killed in the May Cadera area of the Tigray region on November 9, allegedly in a retaliatory attack by retreating TPLF-aligned forces. However, the incident has not been independently confirmed. The TPLF claimed responsibility for rocket attacks that targeted airports in Bahir Dar and Gondar (Amhara region) which occurred on November 13. The TPLF also confirmed that they had fired rockets at the Eritrean capital, Asmara, which targeted Asmara International Airport (ASM) on November 14.
Those in the Tigray region are advised to monitor developments in their area of operations and liaise with appropriate consular authorities. Travelers should avoid the Tigray Region and northern areas of the Amhara region whilst hostilities continue and heed any directives issued by local authorities.
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