Ethiopia pushes toward Tigray capital, rebuffs African mediation

Ethiopia pushes toward Tigray capital, rebuffs African mediation
Tigray men, who fled the conflict in the Ethiopia's Tigray region, wait for UNHCR to distribute blankets at Hamdayet Transition Center in eastern Sudan on Nov. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
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Updated 22 November 2020

Ethiopia pushes toward Tigray capital, rebuffs African mediation

Ethiopia pushes toward Tigray capital, rebuffs African mediation
  • Rebels say army of Abiy and Afwerki ‘inflicts heavy casualties on civilians in Adigrat’

ADDIS ABABA: The Ethiopian government said on Saturday its forces had seized another town in their advance on the rebel-held capital of northern Tigray region, and rebuffed an African diplomatic push to mediate.

More than two weeks into Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s offensive, his government said Tigrayan forces were digging in and using bulldozers to plow up roads around the regional capital Mekelle, home to about half-a-million people.
Hundreds, possibly thousands, have died and more than 30,000 refugees have fled to Sudan. The conflict has spread beyond Tigray, whose forces have fired rockets at the neighboring Amhara region and the nation of Eritrea, spurring concern of a wider war and the splintering of multi-ethnic Ethiopia.
Abiy’s government has said it will soon reach Mekelle after taking various surrounding towns. On Saturday, it said Adigrat had also fallen, about 116 km north of Mekelle.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebels said nine civilians had died in artillery hits on Adigrat where it accused Eritrea of backing the Ethiopian army.
The army of Abiy and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki “inflicted heavy casualties on innocent civilians in Adigrat,” the TPLF’s communications bureau said in a statement on Facebook.
The government and military could not immediately be reached for comment, but have previously repeatedly denied targeting civilians, saying they strike only TPLF targets.
Assertions on all sides are hard to verify because phone lines and internet have been down since the beginning of the conflict on Nov. 4 and media are largely barred.

FASTFACT

The conflict has spread beyond Tigray, whose forces have fired rockets at the neighboring Amhara region and the nation of Eritrea, spurring concern of a wider war and the splintering of multi-ethnic Ethiopia.

Eritrea denies TPLF allegations of sending soldiers over the border to back Abiy’s offensive against the Tigrayan forces, who are also an old foe of Eritrea’s.
Refugees and rights group Amnesty International have also recounted civilian deaths, though Reuters has been unable to verify those reports.
The African Union bloc has appointed former presidents Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa as special envoys to seek a cease-fire and mediation talks.
Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for a peace pact with Eritrea, has said he wants to remove the TPLF leaders before talking.
“News circulating that the envoys will be traveling to Ethiopia to mediate between the Federal Government and TPLF’s criminal element is fake,” the government tweeted on Saturday.
Abiy accuses the Tigrayan leaders of revolting against central authority and attacking federal troops in the town of Dansha. The rebel leaders say Abiy’s government has marginalized and persecuted Tigrayans since taking office two years ago.
Abiy denies that, saying he is seeking only to restore law and order and preserve the unity of Ethiopia and its 115 million people.
The UN and other aid agencies have said the conflict is creating a humanitarian crisis in Tigray, where many among the more than 5 million population were already displaced and relying on food aid even before the conflict.
Satellite images given to Reuters by US-based space company Maxar Technologies showed destroyed buildings lining the main road near the airport in Dansha, where the conflict broke out.
The TPLF is popular in its home region and dominated national politics from 1991 until Abiy took office. Abiy’s parents are from the larger Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups.
“We will do all that is necessary to ensure stability prevails in the Tigray region and that our citizens are free from harm and want,” the prime minister tweeted on Saturday.


Germany wants broader Iran nuclear deal

Updated 11 min 54 sec ago

Germany wants broader Iran nuclear deal

Germany wants broader Iran nuclear deal
  • Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has rejected talk of reopening the 2015 deal

BERLIN: Germany said Friday that a new broader Iran nuclear accord must be reached to also rein in Tehran’s ballistic missile program, warning that the 2015 deal was no longer enough.
“A form of ‘nuclear agreement plus’ is needed, which also lies in our interest,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, told Spiegel magazine in an interview.
“We have clear expectations for Iran: no nuclear weapons, but also no ballistic rocket program which threatens the whole region. Iran must also play another role in the region.”
“We need this accord because we distrust Iran,” he added.
The 2015 nuclear deal — known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA — gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
The European Union and the United States were key signatories in the deal but US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 and has reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign.
President-elect Joe Biden has signalled that Washington could rejoin the deal as a starting point for follow-on negotiations if Iran returned to compliance.
But Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has rejected talk of reopening the 2015 deal, saying on Thursday: “We will not renegotiate a deal which we negotiated.”
He added that Western powers should look to their own behavior before criticizing Iran.
He also complained at what he characterised as a lack of European outrage at the assassination of one of Iran’s leading nuclear scientists, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, outside Tehran last week — an attack Tehran has blamed on Israel.
Decades old US-Iranian tensions dramatically escalated after Trump walked out of the deal.
In recent months, alarm has also grown over Iran’s regional activities through proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, which the West says destabilizes the region.