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Analysts: Ethiopian Forces' Halt at Tigray Opens Window for Ceasefire

A tank destroyed recently during fighting between the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) forces is seen on the roadside in Gashena of Amhara region, Ethiopia Dec. 7, 2021.

Ethiopia's government said it will hold back its army from entering the Tigray region, after Tigrayan rebels retreated to the region this week. Analysts say the two sides are indicating there could be a window for ceasefire after thirteen months of devastating war.

Ethiopia's Government Communications Service Minister, Legesse Tulu, announced the pause was to save Ethiopia's army from what he called further sacrifice and to avoid further accusations of atrocities.

Tulu said the Tigrayan forces - the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) – were heavily hit.

He added that Ethiopia's military defense forces having reclaimed Eastern Amhara and parts of Afar that were under TPLF occupation, have been ordered to stay at their current locations.

The pause came after Tigray forces on Monday announced in a letter to the UN's secretary general that they were pulling out of neighboring regions to pave the way for peace. The letter cited the suffering of Tigrayan people after 13 months of war as a key reason for their retreat.

The rebels' withdrawal and the government's halting its offensive could help usher in negotiations for an end to the year-long war.

The International Crisis Group (IGC) in a report Thursday said both sides should use the opportunity for a ceasefire.

"This opportunity is really…is a rare chance, for the parties to look for a negotiated path forward," said Murithi Mutiga, the ICG's Horn of Africa director. "It is encouraging that the Tigray forces considered they could no longer try and put pressure on Addis Ababa; but it is also encouraging that the authorities have decided to pause their advances and not move into Tigray."

Ethiopia's federal forces spent months fighting in Tigray then fell back in June under a rebel counter-offensive.

Tigrayan forces in July pushed into neighboring Amhara and Afar regions before this week's withdrawal back to Tigray.

Despite the fresh hope for peace, Mutiga doesn't believe the two sides are likely to sit down at the negotiating table.

"In the Ethiopian context, as we know, historically there has been no culture of accommodation," Mutiga said. "It has been one trying to win outright victory on the battlefield. And so, there might be a temptation on all sides to try and press the advantage."

Regional media report federal forces conducted an air strike Wednesday on a power sub-station in the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle. Reuters news agency reported the strike knocked out power across the city.