Lalibela: Tigray forces reportedly took control of UN World Heritage site in Ethiopia

Lalibela is home to 11 medieval monolithic churches that were carved out of the rock 900 years ago. Churches are a holy place for millions of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians.

Some residents have fled the city, located in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, when Tigray fighters arrive, Reuters reported on Thursday.

The United States has called on fighters to “protect this cultural heritage,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday.

CNN has not been able to independently verify reports that Lalibela was captured by Tigrayan fighters.

This development comes eight months after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military offensive against Tigray’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), sending national troops and militiamen from the region to Amhara who were joined by forces from neighboring Eritrea.

The war took a major turn when Tigrayan fighters recaptured their regional capital of Mekelle from Ethiopian forces in June, then rejected a last-minute ceasefire offer from the central government.

Since then, the fighting has spread, with TPLF fighters pushing from Tigray to neighboring areas of Amhara and Afar.

CNN has contacted the Amhara regional government, TPLF and UNESCO to comment on the reported capture of Lalibela.

On Thursday, the United States urged all parties to the Ethiopian conflict to avoid further escalations and to call for a ceasefire.

“We also call on all parties to the conflict to end the violence, as I have said before, to initiate talks to achieve a negotiated ceasefire, and the TPLF to immediately withdraw its associated military forces from the United Nations. Amhara and Afar regions, ”Price added. .

“At the same time, we renew our appeals to the Amhara regional government to immediately withdraw its associated military forces from West Tigray, and to the Eritrean government to permanently withdraw its military forces from Ethiopia. All parties, as we have said, should speed up the unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid to those affected by the conflict, and the trade blockade on Tigray must end

Asked about the information regarding Lalibela, UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said on Thursday that he had not obtained any information on this particular case but “we are aware that there has been an overflow” of the conflict in – beyond the Tigray region.

“Any conflict often starts out as small and, if left unchecked, tends to spill over and expand. And in the meantime, the people paying the price are civilians,” Dujarric said.

UN says food aid in Ethiopia's war-torn Tigray region will run out on Friday as 400,000 people face famine

During a daily press briefing earlier Thursday, Dujarric warned that although there has been a recent entry of aid and supplies into Tigray, “it is still insufficient, with around 100 trucks needed each day. to help 5.2 million people in need “.

“Trucks are coming, but we see looted trucks. Trucks are also delayed,” he added, referring to food trucks for humanitarian aid.

He said that as of Wednesday, 175 trucks containing humanitarian supplies including food, non-food items and fuel had arrived in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray. “These include 50 trucks that entered Tigray in the last month and the remaining trucks have only crossed in the past few days,” Dujarric said.

“These are among at least 223 trucks with humanitarian supplies for the UN and international NGOs that left Semera, the capital of Afar region, towards Mekelle. Most of the remaining trucks are scanned at a checkpoint and a few trucks are in Abala, the last point of entry into Tigray. “

He said two trucks were reportedly blocked by civilians and looted at a checkpoint in Afar, 97 km from Semera, on July 28.

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