Ethiopian airstrikes in Tigray force UN flight to turn back

Ethiopia Tigray Crisis

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Ethiopian military airstrikes on Friday forced a United Nations humanitarian flight to abandon its landing in the capital of the country’s Tigray region, and a government spokesman said authorities were aware of the inbound flight. It appeared to be a sharp escalation in intimidation tactics authorities have used against aid workers amid the intensifying, year-long Tigray war.

Further U.N. flights have been suspended to Mekele, the base of humanitarian operations in Tigray, the World Food Program told The Associated Press. It said the flight with 11 passengers had been cleared by federal authorities but “received instructions to abort landing by the Mekele airport control tower.” It safely returned to Addis Ababa.

U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said: “The U.N. had not received any prior warning of the attacks on Mekelle and had received the necessary clearances for the flight.”

He expressed “grave concern” for civilians facing airstrikes in Mekele and insufficient humanitarian assistance into Tigray, and alarm at the worsening toll of fighting on civilians in the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions.

“We’ve had flights turned around because of weather," Gemma Connell, head of the U.N.’s regional humanitarian office for southern and eastern Africa, told reporters. “But this is the first time we’ve had a flight turn around, at least to my knowledge, in Ethiopia because of airstrikes on the ground.”