Tigray rebels have reportedly recaptured the north Ethiopian town of Lalibela, home to a UNESCO world heritage site, 11 days after Ethiopian forces said they had taken it back.
Tigrayan rebels “are in the town centre, there’s no fighting,” a resident told AFP news agency on Sunday.
“They came back. They’re already here,” said another.
Government spokesperson Legesse Tulu and a military spokesman did not respond to requests for comment on the reported recapture of the town by forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda also did not respond to a Reuters phone call seeking comment.
TPLF’s military leadership said in a statement shared with pro-TPLF media they had launched “widespread counter-offensives” in numerous locations including along the road linking Gashena and Lalibela.
Communications have been cut in the conflict zone and access for journalists is restricted making it difficult to verify the claims.
PM Abiy ‘headed’ to front again
In a tweet late on Saturday, Abiy’s office said he had “headed to the front again” and forces under his leadership had captured several strategic locations in Afar and Amhara including the towns of Arjo, Fokisa and Boren.
War in northern Ethiopia erupted in November 2020 after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent the army to the northern Tigray region to remove local authorities from the TPLF who challenged his authority after attacking military bases.
The rebels recaptured most of Tigray at the end of June, then advanced into the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara.
The more than 13 months of conflict has plunged 9.4 million people “into a critical situation of food assistance” in the regions of Tigray, Afar and Amhara, the United Nations says.
Thousands of schools destroyed
On Sunday, Ethiopian Minister of Education Birhanu Nega said Amhara would need over $220 million to rebuild 4,000 educational institutions and schools that he said were destroyed by Tigrayan forces.
Ethiopian state television has also published pictures of what it described as the looting of a hospital in the town of Dessie by Tigrayan rebels.
Footage showed empty shelves and boxes of medicines and equipment destroyed or strewn on the floor.