Ethiopia’s capital, Tigray, was “heavily bombed.”

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – The Ethiopian army launched an attack on Saturday in the regional capital of Tigray to arrest the region’s defiant leaders, and the city was “heavily bombed,” Tigray TV reported.

Humanitarian workers confirmed the shooting in Mekele, a densely populated city of half a million people that immediately caused concern for civilian casualties. The leader of the Tigray could not be reached and the Ethiopian government did not comment on this.

The Ethiopian government has warned Mekele residents that “there is no mercy” if they do not distance themselves in time from the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. According to the United Nations, some residents fled when the military closed.

“The United States is deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in the Tigray region,” U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft tweeted after the reported bombing began. He called for dialogue, protection of civilians and access to aid.

“I invite everyone to pray for Ethiopia, where armed clashes have escalated and are causing a serious humanitarian situation,” Pope Francis tweeted.

Communication continues to be largely severed from the Tigray region, with a population of about 6 million, making it difficult to substantiate the claims of the parties to the conflict between the Ethiopian government and the TPLF, which once dominated the country’s governing coalition but was ignored by new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. .

Abiy declined dialogue with the TPLF, most recently at his meeting with African Union delegates on Friday. Each government considers the other illegal.

The offensive against Mekele alarmed the international community. Abiy’s government has said it will take care to avoid harming civilians in the tank-led attack.

As Ethiopian forces moved in, Major General Hassan Ibrahim vowed to occupy the city “on all fronts”.

– It is possible that some of the people you are looking for may go to your family or neighboring areas and try to hide for a few days. But our armed forces, having taken control of the city of Mekele, are given the task of hunting down and capturing these criminals one by one, wherever they may be.

The Tigray region has been almost completely cut off from the outside world since Nov. 4, when Abiy announced a military offensive in response to the TPLF attack on the military base. Humanitarian officials say at least a hundred people have been killed.

The struggle threatens to destabilize Ethiopia, which is called a strategic element of the Horn of Africa.

With the severance of transport links, food and other supplies are running low in Tigray, home to 6 million people, and the UN has called for immediate and unhindered access to aid.

Nearly 1 million people have been forced to flee their homes in the region, the UN said, citing local authorities in a Saturday update.

Antonio Guterres, the office of the UN Secretary-General, said he had “expressed serious concern about the consequences of the Ethiopian conflict for the civilian population and the spread of hate speech and reports of ethnic profiling”.

More crises are growing. More than 43,000 refugees have fled to Sudan, where people are struggling to get food, shelter and care. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, tigray hospitals are running out of drugs. And fighting near camps sheltering 96,000 Eritrean refugees in northern Ethiopia drowned them in a fire.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi visited the Umm Rakouba refugee camp in Sudan on Saturday, home to some 10,000 refugees. He said about $ 150 million is needed over the next six months to help Sudan manage the influx.

Worryingly, Sudanese refugees told the Associated Press that Ethiopian forces near the border are preventing people from leaving. AP journalists have been trickling slowly in recent days. The Ethiopian government has not commented on this.

“We’ve seen the number of people decrease, but it continues. Five to 600 a day is no small figure, make no mistake. True, there have been days when there have been thousands, but it also depends on how difficult it is to move around their country and border, ”Grandi said.

Access to Tigray is “the main obstacle at the moment,” he said, urging Abiy’s government to “provide us with corridors or whatever they call for help”.