ADDIS ABABA - At least three rockets were fired at Eritrea’s capital from Ethiopia on Saturday night, five regional diplomats said, a major escalation of a conflict pitting Ethiopian government troops against rebellious local forces in the Tigray region.
At least two of the rockets hit Asmara airport, three diplomats said. With most communications down in Tigray and Eritrea, Reuters could not independently confirm the strikes. Officials on both sides could not be reached.
Tigray’s leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, said on Tuesday that Eritrea had sent troops over the border in support of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government but provided no evidence.
Eritrea’s Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed denied this at the time, telling Reuters: “We are not part of the conflict.”
Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a peace deal two years ago, but President Isaias Afwerki’s government in Asmara remains hostile to the Tigray leadership after their role in a devastating 1998-2000 war.
Earlier on Saturday, Tigray’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), threatened to attack Eritrean targets.
“We will launch a missile attack to foil any military movement in Asmara and Massawa,” party spokesman Getachew Reda told a local television station. Massawa is an Eritrean port on the Red Sea.
Abiy launched a military campaign against Tigray’s leaders last week, after accusing them of attacking federal troops based in the northern region that borders Eritrea and Sudan.
The fighting has killed hundreds of people on both sides, sent thousands of civilians fleeing into Sudan, and raised fears it could destabilize other parts of Ethiopia and the wider Horn of Africa region.
Several refugees arriving in the Sudanese border town of Hamdayat told Reuters that their areas in Ethiopia had been shelled from Eritrea. Reuters could not independently verify this.
“We were shelled by artillery volleys from across the Eritrean border,” said Naksiam Guru, a 22-year refugee who lives near the border. “I saw people dying in the streets.”
Hamdayat is home to a camp hosting 8,000 refugees. Several hundred arrived on Saturday morning, some crossing a border river in boats, some swimming or wading through the water.
Late on Friday rockets were fired at two airports in Ethiopia’s Amhara state, which has sent troops into Tigray in support of Abiy, in what the TPLF said was retaliation for government air strikes against their region.
“As long as the attacks on the people of Tigray do not stop, the attacks will intensify,” Getachew said on the Tigrayan group’s Facebook page.