At least four people, including two children, were killed in an airstrike in the capital of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, hospital chiefs said.
The federal government denied allegations that the air force only targeted military positions and blamed Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces for the civilian deaths.
Tigray television, which is controlled by regional authorities, said the attack in Mekele took place at 09:40 GMT on Friday and blamed it on the federal government. No other military aircraft are known to operate in Ethiopian airspace.
Federal government spokesman Legese Tulu and military spokesman Colonel Getnet Adane did not respond to questions about the airstrikes, which came days after fighting resumed between the national government and Tigray forces along the border of Tigray and Amhara regions.
Eider Hospital chief executive Kibrom Gebreselassie said the blast occurred in a children’s playground. It was not immediately clear if there were any military facilities nearby.
Tigray Television quoted witnesses as saying the attack took place at a kindergarten called Red Kids Paradise in the Tigrayan capital. It broadcast graphic images of children depicted on the ground and adults with dismembered bodies in the presence of medical personnel.
Broadcaster Dimtsi Wayane informed that houses near the kindergarten were also hit by the attack.
Tigrayan officials called the airstrike “a merciless, tragic” attack.
“This evil regime has outdone itself by deliberately targeting the building of children today,” he said in a statement.
A humanitarian source in the city confirmed the sound of explosions and anti-aircraft gunfire.
‘Fake Body Bag’
Kibrom said on Twitter that the hospital received four dead, two of them children, and nine other wounded in the airstrike.
“More victims are coming. Our hospital has a total of 13 so far,” he said.
Al Jazeera cannot independently verify the comments.
Both sides have accused each other of breaking a four-month ceasefire between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the TPLF, which controls Tigray.
“Civilians are dead and injured” and rescue operations are underway, TPLF spokesman Kindeya Gebrehiwot said, following Friday’s airstrikes.
Ethiopia’s Government Communications Service said in a statement that the government would “take action targeting the military forces that are the source of anti-peace sentiments of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front”.
“Ethiopia’s air force is clearly reversing an attack it launched on Ethiopia targeting military sites only,” the government communication service said.
“However, the terrorist TPLF has started dropping fake body bags in civilian areas to claim that the air force attacked civilians.”
Stephen Jarrique, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said he could not confirm reports of civilian deaths from the airstrikes.
“This is a very relevant development … it is a good opportunity to reaffirm the Secretary-General’s call for a cessation of hostilities,” Jaric told reporters.
Drought and millions displaced
Etana Habate Dinka of James Madison University said food, fuel and other goods have been cut off from entering the region since federal forces withdrew from Tigray months ago.
“The most important thing is timing. It is important to know why this war started again. The Addis Ababa government must know that the Tigrayan army is at its weakest point. Organization and resumption of war is important,” he told Al Jazeera.
The war broke out in Tigray in November 2020 and spread to the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara a year ago. Last November, Tigrayan forces marched on Addis Ababa, but were driven back by a government offensive that month.
A ceasefire was announced in March after bloody clashes on both sides, and the government declared a humanitarian ceasefire, allowing much-needed food aid to the region.
The fighting has displaced millions of people, pushed parts of Tigray into drought conditions, and killed thousands of civilians.
The majority of Tigray’s residents have been without telephone or internet service for over a year.
The return to fighting has alarmed the international community, which has been pressing both sides for a peaceful resolution to the brutal 21-month war in Africa’s second-most populous country.
Since late June, the Abiy government and the rebels have repeatedly expressed their desire to enter peace talks, but have disagreed on the terms of such talks. Even in recent weeks, they have accused each other of preparing to return to war.