On Saturday evening, at least two missiles hit Eritrea’s capital Asmara at around 8 pm, in a dramatic escalation of a civil war which is raging across northern Ethiopia.
Reportedly, missiles hit Asmara’s airport. The number of casualties is still unknown.
“I heard a loud blast and then suddenly people were running in all directions,” said one eyewitness in Asmara. “It looked like long-range missiles.”
The missiles are suspected of having been launched by the leaders of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, which is currently battling federal Ethiopian government forces in a bloody civil war which is threatening to pull Africa’s second most populous nation apart.
Earlier on Saturday, the president of the Tigray region, Debretsion Gebremichael, claimed responsibility for two other missile attacks in Ethiopia’s neighbouring Amhara region and said he would not hesitate to attack Eritrea.
“Eritrea has sent troops over the border to attack us,” Mr Gebremichael said in a broadcast on a Tigrayan regional broadcaster. “We will use everything at our disposal to defend ourselves.”
Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, ordered the army into Tigray last week after an alleged attack on a military base by the ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The TPLF is the ruling party in the semi-autonomous region of five million people which borders Eritrea and Sudan. The Tigrayan minority was the dominant force in government until Mr Abiy came into power in 2018 and has since complained of being persecuted.
The missile strikes came after TPLF forces suffered battleground defeats in Western Tigray. By Tuesday, Ethiopian army forces had captured the strategic town of Humera, close to where the Ethiopian, Eritrean and Sudanese borders intersect.
Isaias Afwerki, Eritrea’s dictator and an ally of Prime Minister Abiy, is a sworn enemy of the TPLF. Tigrayan leaders have accused Eritrea of attacking them several times this week, although the accusations have not been verified.
As of Friday evening, at least 21,000 Ethiopians had fled across the border into Sudan, according to Sudan’s refugee agency.
“So far more than half [of the refugees] are children and they are arriving with very few belongings indicating that they had to leave in a hurry,” said Tina Ghelli, a spokesperson for the UNHCR.