The Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) claimed to have shot down an Ethiopian military aircraft and to have retaken the town of Axum from government forces on Sunday, November 29. Debretsion Gebremichael, leader of the TPLF, announced that the pilot of the downed plane had been captured. The Ethiopian government has not commented on the claims, which are difficult to verify since all telecommunications in the region are down. The news came as Ethiopian state media announced that 70 graves, some of which were mass graves, had been found in the town of Humera. The state media did not say who was believed to have been behind the killings and the government and military are yet to comment.
Further clashes are likely in and around the Tigray region in the near 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 TPLF administration of attacking 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 previous rocket attacks that targeted airports in Bahir Dar and Gondar (Amhara region) which occurred on November 13, in addition to similar attacks against the Eritrean capital, Asmara.
Government forces began their "final phase" of the operation to capture the regional capital Mekelle after a 72-hour ultimatum issued on Wednesday, November 22, for the TPLF to surrender the city expired.
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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