Written by Piero Messina
The rebel forces of Tigray have recaptured the city of Lalibela in northern Ethiopia. The news was spread by the local media. It is yet another development of the civil war in Ethiopia, with government forces engaged for over a year in fierce fighting against the TPLF militias, the liberation front of the people of Tigray. Lalibela is becoming the symbolic city of the conflict. The city center had previously been captured by Tigrinya fighters.
According to local media, the TPLF rebels are in the city center and there are no more fighting going on. The Tigrinya militias would have conquered the city by attacking from the east, in the direction of Waldia. The people of Lalibela are on the run for fear of retaliation.
According to a press release from the military leadership, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) said it had launched “widespread counter-offensives” in numerous locations, including along the road linking Gashena and Lalibela. “Our forces first defended and then conducted a counter-offensive against the massive force that was attacking the front in Gashena and surrounding areas to achieve a glorious victory,” he said. The Addis Ababa government did not comment on the news of the conquest of Lalibela by the Tigrinya militias. According to the reconstruction of the local media, the special forces of the government, together with the local troops of the Amhara region had begun to evacuate Lalibela.
Lalibela is home to 11 medieval rock-hewn churches and is a pilgrimage site for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Forces aligned with the TPLF had taken control of the city last August. However, by December 1, Addis Ababa-affiliated government and regional troops had managed to retake the site. The recovery of Lalibela had been one of many brought back to the battlefield by soldiers of the national army in numerous operations against the Tigray forces, which in November had pushed south and threatened to march on the capital, Addis Abeba.
Meanwhile, the government led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has announced the launch of an attack maneuver against Tigrinya forces. The pro-government army is said to be heading towards the city of Waldia, a stronghold of the TPLF.
Since the end of November, the Prime Minister himself had led the Ethiopian army in the battle against the TPLF.
The government offensive had made it possible to recapture many cities this month, pushing the Tigray forces back more than 180 km. The conflict between the federal government and the rebels in the northern region of Tigray has been going on for over a year. In addition to causing thousands of deaths, the civil war in Ethiopia has become a humanitarian emergency, with people forced to flee their homes and more than 9 million people now dependent on international food aid to survive.
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