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Tigray: Multiple explosions reported in Eritrea capital after Ethiopia declares victory

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Tigray people who fled the conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region stand on a hill above Umm Rakouba refugee. Eastern Sudan. Nov 26, 2020.
Tigray people who fled the conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region stand on a hill above Umm Rakouba refugee. Eastern Sudan. Nov 26, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

The US Embassy in Eritrea reported hearing six explosions on Saturday night in the capital, Asmara. 

It follows an embassy report of another “loud noise, possibly an explosion” in the city on Friday, nearly two weeks after the government of neighbouring Ethiopia’s defiant Tigray region confirmed firing missiles at the city during its war with Ethiopian federal forces.

The latest explosions came just hours after Ethiopia's military said it had gained “full control” of the capital in the Tigray region.

The Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) leader earlier this month asserted that Eritrean forces were involved in the fighting in Tigray at the invitation of Ethiopia’s government, something Addis Ababa has repeatedly denied. 

Fears have grown that 96,000 Eritrean refugees in camps just over the border in Ethiopia are at risk.

The US has accused the TPLF of seeking to “internationalise” the deadly conflict in which humanitarians say several hundred people have been killed, including civilians.

Ethiopia's prime minister said on Saturday the taking of Mekele marked the “completion” of an offensive that started nearly four weeks ago. 

The regional government said the city of a half-million people was “heavily bombarded" in the final push to arrest its leaders.

“God bless Ethiopia and its people!" Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in a statement. “We have entered Mekele without innocent civilians being targets."

He added police will now pursue the leaders of the TPLF, who run the region and dominated Ethiopia's ruling coalition before Abiy came to power in 2018 and sidelined them among the sweeping reforms that won him the Nobel Peace Prize.

Abiy’s government has accused the TPLF of inciting unrest and seeking to reclaim power — each government now regards the other as illegal. 

The prime minister has rejected dialogue with TPLF leaders, including during a Friday meeting with three African Union special envoys.

The minister in charge of democratization, Zadig Abraha, said the Ethiopian government doesn't yet know the number of people killed in the conflict.

“We have kept the civilian casualty very low,” he asserted. Humanitarians and human rights groups have reported several hundred dead, including combatants.

Some Ethiopians at home and in the diaspora celebrated at the news that Mekele was under the military's control. “Thanks to the Almighty God our creator. Amen. Let peace prevail in Ethiopia!!!” former Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn tweeted.

The fighting has threatened to destabilise Ethiopia, which has been described as the linchpin of the strategic Horn of Africa, and its neighbours.

As international alarm has grown since the conflict began on Nov. 4, so has a massive humanitarian crisis. The Tigray region of 6 million people has been cut off from the world as the military pursued what Abiy called a “law enforcement operation" with airstrikes and tanks.

Food, fuel, cash and medical supplies have run desperately low. Nearly 1 million people have been displaced, including more than 40,000 who fled into Sudan. 

Camps home to 96,000 Eritrean refugees in northern Tigray have been in the line of fire.