Ethiopian government forces began an artillery assault on the capital of the rebel-run region of Tigray, confirming the failure of last-minute diplomacy from the African Union and raising fears of a protracted humanitarian crisis in the strategic Horn of Africa.
Shelling began around midday Saturday in the center of Mekelle, Western diplomats and aid workers said. By early evening, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said that Ethiopian government forces had entered the normally peaceful city of a half-million people close to the border with Eritrea and were “fully in control.” That claim couldn’t be independently verified.
“We achieved this without injuring civilians and causing damage on infrastructures and historical sites and heritage,” Mr. Ahmed said.
Ethiopia’s government had given the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the ruling party in the region, a 72-hour ultimatum to surrender and warned city residents there would be “no mercy” if the rebels tried to cling to power.
Government forces backed by heavy artillery had massed on the edge of Mekelle after three weeks of fighting with the regional government of Tigray, which wants a bigger voice in national rule.