A bomb blast killed dozens of people Tuesday at a market in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, as new fighting flared up in areas outside the regional capital, Mekelle.
The bomb went off in the town of Togoga west of Mekelle at about 1 p.m. local time. There were conflicting reports on whether the blast was the result of a plane dropping a bomb or artillery shells hitting the market.
Local medical officials that at least 43 people were killed, with dozens of others wounded.
Berhan Ghebrehiwet, who sells coffee for a living, said her hand was wounded during the attack.
“First they bombed the market and later they continue bombing the houses. My hand was injured from the bombing. I am suffering a lot and it is causing me great pain,” she told a reporter for VOA’s Horn of Africa Service at Hyder Hospital in Mekelle.
Health workers said Ethiopian soldiers blocked ambulances from reaching the scene of the attack.
Negasi Berhane, a Mekelle resident who suffered leg injuries in the attack, said he saw three people die in front of him, with many others left to suffer.
Ambulance driver Kahsu Tsegay told VOA he unsuccessfully tried five times to transport injured civilians to the hospital. The driver said he was barred from transporting wounded people on the grounds they had tried to help Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) fighters.
Reuters news agency says an Ethiopian military spokesman, Colonel Getnet Adane, denied the military was blocking ambulances.
Later Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it helped the Ethiopian Red Cross Society and other parties evacuate wounded people from Togoga and transport them to a hospital in Mekelle.
"We cannot stress enough how vital it is for the medical mission to be respected and protected at all times," ICRC official Nicolas von Arx said in a statement.
The U.S. State Department released a statement Wednesday, saying, “We strongly condemn this reprehensible act.” It said it was "gravely concerned" by the reports of the airstrike on the market.
State Department spokesman Ned Price urged Ethiopian authorities to "ensure full and unhindered medical access to the victims immediately."
Ethiopian defense forces commander General Berhanu Jula denied the military attacked the market. The general said the attack was targeting an armed group, not civilians.
Asked if he saw armed people during the bombing, Mekelle resident Negasi said he only saw civilians.
On Tuesday, residents said new fighting had erupted elsewhere in Tigray. Residents said TPLF fighters had entered towns north of the capital, only to withdraw within hours.
Tigray has been embroiled in conflict since November, when the Ethiopian military launched an offensive to oust the ruling TPLF. Eritrea’s military has been helping Ethiopian troops battle the TPLF in the ongoing dispute.
Thousands of people have been killed and some 2 million others have fled their homes to escape the violence since fighting erupted.
Mulugeta Atsbeha of VOA’s Horn of Africa Service contributed to this report.