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ADIS ABABA: An employee of the NGO International Rescue Committee (IRC) and two civilians were killed by a shelling in Shire, a city in the Ethiopian splinter region in the Tigray conflict and targeted by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces for several days.

The employee died after being injured, along with a colleague, “in an attack in Shire” on Friday, the IRC said in a statement on Saturday. Two humanitarian sources told AFP that the two workers were hit during a bombing.

Before succumbing, “our colleague (…) was injured while distributing vital humanitarian aid to women and children”, explains the NGO.

“Another IRC member was wounded in the attack and two civilians were killed and three wounded,” according to the New York-based organization that has been present in Ethiopia since 1999.

UN humanitarian coordinator Martin Griffiths said he was “more than concerned about the safety of civilians and humanitarian personnel in Shire”, where the “situation is increasingly tense”.

Active in nine of Ethiopia’s 11 regions, the IRC reports helping people affected by disasters by providing clean water, sanitation, medical care, women’s protection and education.

The UN Secretary-General said he was “deeply concerned about the escalation of fighting in Tigray and its devastating impact on civilians,” according to a statement Saturday from his spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.

Located in northern Tigray, about fifty kilometers from Eritrea, Shire had around 100,000 inhabitants in 2021, according to official statistics.

Bombed “without interruption”

Concurring sources indicated that the city was bombed for several days by the Ethiopian and Eritrean armies, which are carrying out a joint offensive in Tigray.

“Shire was continuously targeted throughout the week by artillery fire and air strikes that caused human and material damage,” a humanitarian source told AFP on Friday, who requested anonymity.

The source said on Saturday that “Shire was calm today with no reports of bombings or air strikes.” “Residents have been fleeing en masse since yesterday afternoon and until this morning (Saturday), but it slowed down in the afternoon,” the source added.

Fighting resumed on August 24 in northern Ethiopia, after five months of truce and dim hopes of talks to which the Ethiopian federal government and Tigray rebel authorities, in armed conflict since November 2020, expressed their will.

The region is currently surrounded to the north and west by the army of Eritrea, which borders the northern border of Tigray and supports Ethiopian federal forces, and to the south and east by Ethiopian troops, aided by forces from the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar.

Washington and Brussels denounced the intensification of the offensive by Ethiopian and Eritrean troops.

aborted conversations

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on the “Ethiopian and Eritrean armies to immediately cease their joint offensive and Eritrea withdraw its forces from northern Ethiopia”, while urging Tigrayan forces to “cease acts of provocation”.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s federal government and rebel authorities in Tigray said they were ready in early October to participate in negotiations in South Africa to which the African Union (AU) had invited them.

Weakened by organizational problems, the negotiations finally broke down and the struggle continues.

US envoy to the Horn of Africa Mike Hammer, back in the region since 3 October, arrived in Ethiopia on Friday as part of efforts to end the conflict and start negotiations under the aegis of the AU.

Mr. Hammer recently accused Eritrea of ​​”provoking conflict” in Tigray. The European Parliament also denounced in early October the “very destructive role of Eritrea in the conflict”, which “has contributed to the escalation”.

In a statement, the Eritrean Embassy in the United States on Saturday denounced “desperate” attempts by the United States and the EU to “minimize and cover up the crimes” of the rebel authorities in Tigray, responsible, according to Asmara, for the outbreak of the conflict.

These “schemes invariably include unjustified accusations against Eritrea, designated as a scapegoat”, continues the embassy of this ultra-militarized country, among the most closed and authoritarian in the world.

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