The International Rescue Committee (IRC) on Saturday said that one of its aid workers was among three civilians killed in an attack in Tigray where Ethiopian and Eritrean forces have launched an offensive.
The attack occurred in the city of Shire in northwest Tigray, which has been bombarded for several days in a joint push against rebels from the war-torn region, humanitarian and diplomatic sources said.
IRC, a US-based organization that helps people in humanitarian crises, said one of its employees “died from injuries sustained during an attack” on Friday while delivering aid to women and children.
“Another IRC staff member was also injured in the attack, and two other civilians were reportedly killed and three injured,” IRC said. “Aid workers and civilians should never be a target.”
Shire and its 100,000 inhabitants had been “subjected to continuous heavy artillery and airstrikes all this week,” which has caused casualties and property damage, a humanitarian worker in the city said.
Civilians on Friday started fleeing Shire in droves, the source said, asking to remain anonymous.
The upsurge in violence and reports of civilian casualties in Shire has alarmed the international community, which has been pushing both sides to stop fighting and negotiate at peace talks led by the African Union (AU).
“Horrified by the reports of continuous violence, including targeting of civilians, in #Shire #Tigray,” High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell wrote on Twitter on Saturday.
“Genuine peace efforts do not amount to increasing military offensives nor to provocation. Respecting international law is not an option — it is an obligation for all,” he wrote.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Washinton was “deeply concerned over reports of increasing violence, loss of life, indiscriminate targeting of civilians and destruction in the conflict in northern Ethiopia, particularly around Shire.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “gravely concerned about the escalation of the fighting in Tigray, which is having a devastating impact on civilians,” his spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said in a statement.
The fighting around Shire came as US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Mike Hammer arrived in Addis Ababa to push for an end to nearly two years of war between Ethiopia, its allies and rebels from Tigray.
International efforts have intensified to try to bring peace to northern Ethiopia after fighting resumed in late August, rupturing a truce and halting aid into stricken Tigray.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and Tigrayan authorities accepted an AU invitation to negotiate, but talks scheduled to start two weekends ago in South Africa failed to take place, with diplomats suggesting logistical issues were partly to blame.
Hammer has said that Eritrea’s re-entry into the conflict — it sided with Ethiopia in the early stages of the war — has complicated matters, and the US among other nations has demanded their troops withdraw.
Eritrea said the US and EU had “desperately tried to downplay and whitewash” the part of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in the war.
The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s ruling coalition for decades before Abiy came to power in 2018, and is a historic enemy of Eritrea.
“The ploy has invariably included unwarranted accusations and scapegoating of Eritrea,” said a letter dated Saturday and addressed to the US posted on the Web site of the Eritrean Ministry of Information.
The conflict erupted in November 2020 when Abiy — a Nobel Peace Prize winner — sent troops to topple the TPLF, the ruling party in Tigray he accused of staging attacks on army camps.
Unknown numbers have been killed in the war which has unleashed a humanitarian disaster in northern Ethiopia, with more than 2 million people forced from their homes and hundreds of thousands close to famine, the UN says.
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