Two airports in Ethiopia’s Amhara state were targeted in the strikes late Friday. One, the Gondar airport, was hit and took damage. The second missile missed its target, the Bahir Dar airport, though there was still some damage.
Hundreds of people have been killed and well over 17,000 foreigners have escaped into neighboring Sudan since Ethiopian troops started fighting local forces in the northern Tigray area 11 days ago.
The battle is the outcome of a months-long falling out amid dramatic shifts in power following Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office two years ago.
The Tigray regional government, which once controlled the country’s ruling coalition, broke away last year and the federal government now claims its ruling “clique” must be restricted and their well-stocked arsenal destroyed.
Ahmed said government warplanes were attacking military targets in Tigray, including arms depots and equipment managed by the Tigrayan forces. The government maintains its military operations are aimed at restoring the rule of law in the mountainous state of 5 million people.
The ruling Tigray party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, explained that the missile strikes were in retaliation for the air attacks by the government forces.
“As long as the attacks on the people of Tigray do not stop, the attacks will intensify,” Getachew Reda, a spokesperson for the party, wrote on Facebook that painted Ahmed as a “fascist terrorist and invader.”
“Yesterday evening we inflicted heavy damages on the military components of the Gondar and Bahir Dar airports,” Getachew said. He repeated claims by the TPLF that Eritrean soldiers were involved in the fight, which Ethiopia denies.
Getachew said the TPLF would not hesitate to strike locations inside Eritrea – Ethiopia’s traditional foe – including its capital, Asmara. “Whether they lift from Asmara or Bahir Dar to attack Tigray ... we will commit retaliatory measures. We will undertake missile attacks on selected targets in addition to the airports,” Getachew said. “We will conduct missile attacks to foil military movements in Massawa and Asmara,” he added.
The fight is boosting fears of ethnic targeting. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front denied claims that scores or even hundreds of civilians were “hacked to death” Monday in the regional town of Mai-Kadra, but the massacre was confirmed by Amnesty International.
A communications blackout in the area made it hard to evaluate competing claims about the fighting. Military officials vowed to keep the conflict contained in Tigray, and Abiy repeatedly promised a quick, decisive victory.