ADDIS ABABA: The UN on Saturday condemned a deadly Ethiopian air strike on a kindergarten in war-torn Tigray as fighting between rebels and government forces intensified along the region's border.
The air raid on the city of Mekele came just days after fighting returned to Ethiopia's north, shattering a five-month truce and dimming hopes of peace talks to end the brutal war.
On Saturday, the government said federal forces had withdrawn from Kobo, a city just south of rebel-held Tigray, in a border region where combat erupted in recent days.
The Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which has been fighting forces allied to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for 21 months, said it had captured a number of towns and cities in a counter-offensive.
The tit-for-tat claims could not be independently verified, as access to northern Ethiopia is severely restricted.
On Friday, as conflict on the ground escalated, an air strike on Mekele killed at least four people including two children, an official at the city's biggest hospital said.
Tigrai TV, a local network, put the death toll at seven, including three children.
The broadcaster aired graphic footage of mangled playground equipment and a compound brightly painted with cartoons in ruins at the apparent scene of the strike.
Addis Ababa said only military sites were targeted and accused the TPLF of "dumping fake body bags in civilian areas" to manufacture outrage.
But the UN children's agency Unicef said the strike "hit a kindergarten, killing several children, and injuring others".
"Unicef strongly condemns the air strike," said Unicef chief Catherine Russell.
"Yet again, an escalation of violence in northern Ethiopia has caused children to pay the heaviest price. For almost two years, children and their families in the region have endured the agony of this conflict. It must end."
Vicky Ford, the UK's Africa minister, said on Twitter: "Reports of civilian casualties following airstrikes on #Tigray are appalling."
The EU commissioner for crisis management, Janez Lenarcic, called for international humanitarian law to be respected.
"Civilians are #NotATarget," he said on Twitter.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, himself from Tigray, described the air strike as "barbaric" and "horrifying".
In March, the UN said at least 304 civilians had been killed in the three months prior in airstrikes "apparently carried out by the Ethiopian Air Force".
The UN human rights office has documented aerial bombardments and drone strikes on refugee camps, a hotel and a market, and warned that disproportionate attacks against non-military targets could amount to war crimes. -- AFP