An airstrike on a children’s playground has killed at least seven people in the capital of northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region, medical officials said, in the first such attack after the collapse of a four-month ceasefire this week.
Officials said three children were among the dead, but a federal government spokesman denied any civilian casualties.
The airstrike on Mekelle on Friday came two days after fighting broke out again between the national government and Tigrayan forces on the border of the Tigray and Amhara regions, breaking the ceasefire.
Tigrai Television, controlled by regional authorities, accused the federal government of being responsible for the strike. No other military aircraft operate in Ethiopian airspace.
The Ethiopian government later urged people in Tigray to stay away from military installations, saying it intended to “take measures to target military forces”.
Kibrom Gebreselassie, chief executive of Ayder Hospital, said on Twitter that the hospital had received four dead, including two children, and nine injured. He said the strike affected a children’s playground.
Some media referred to the site as a kindergarten. It was unclear if there were any military installations nearby.
Federal government spokesman Legesse Tulu said news of civilian casualties was “lies and fabricated drama” and accused Tigrayan authorities of “throwing body bags”.
He denied that the government strikes hit civilian facilities and said they only targeted military sites.
Footage released by Tigrai TV showed a building whose roof had been ripped off, revealing a twisting jumble of slides and rescue workers carrying a stretcher behind a damaged pink wall painted with a giant butterfly.
Fasika Amdeslasie, a surgeon at Ayder Hospital, said a colleague at Mekelle Hospital told him he had received three other bodies – a mother and child and another unidentified person – with the total death toll at seven.
“Their bodies were torn apart,” he said. “I saw their bodies myself.”
The surgeon said restrictions on medical supplies entering Tigray meant the hospital lacked vital supplies, including intravenous fluids, antibiotics and painkillers.
Ethiopian Health Minister Lia Tadesse did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the shortages.
A humanitarian source in Mekelle confirmed hearing an explosion and anti-aircraft fire in the town on Friday.
Government airstrikes have already killed civilians, investigators say. In January, a drone strike left 56 dead and 30 injured, including children, at a camp for displaced people in Dedebit, witnesses said. The government did not respond to requests for comment.
The war broke out in Tigray in November 2020 and spread to neighboring Afar and Amhara regions a year ago. Last November, Tigrayan forces marched towards Addis Ababa but were repelled by a government offensive.
A ceasefire was announced in March after the two sides fought to a stalemate and the government declared a humanitarian truce, allowing badly needed food aid to the region.
When the fighting broke out this week, the two blamed each other.