Aid Efforts 'Severely Hampered' as Bridge Into Tigray Destroyed in Fighting

A key bridge over the Tekeze River into Tigray has been destroyed, eliminating a needed route to deliver food and relief to the warring Ethiopian region. The bridge's loss "means aid efforts will be even more severely hampered than before," the International Rescue Committee said in a statement, the Associated Press reported.

Tigray is contending with the worst hunger crisis the world has seen in a decade. The United States said that up to 900,000 people from the region endure famine conditions.

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the bridge's destruction, but the loss disrupted a leading supply line between Amhara-occupied western Tigray and the rest of the region.

Aid groups have been investigating whether other key bridges have been destroyed, while the Ethiopian government has restricted aircraft from flying in the Tigray airspace below 29,000 feet, a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration notice said Wednesday.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Tigray Region
A key bridge over the Tekeze River into the Tigray region of Ethiopia has been destroyed, eliminating a needed route to deliver food and relief to the warring region. Above, a woman poses for a photograph at the downtown market in Mekele, the capital of Tigray, on June 25, 2021. Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images

The Tigray forces, emboldened after retaking the regional capital this week in a stunning turn in the eight-month war with Ethiopia's military, have taken control of key towns this week, and several thousand fighters had been seen to be moving west.

The spokesman for the Tigray forces this week told AP they would "liberate" the region from "enemies" including the Ethiopian forces, Amhara forces and soldiers from neighboring Eritrea.

Ethiopia's government, under pressure from battlefield losses amid some of the fiercest fighting of the war, this week declared an immediate and unilateral cease-fire. Witnesses have seen Eritrean forces retreating toward the border Eritrea shares with Tigray.

Amhara authorities have warned the Tigray forces against trying to retake western areas.

The Amhara regional spokesman, Gizachew Muluneh, told AP an investigation would be carried out into the bridge's destruction. Ethiopian military spokesman Col. Getinet Adane said that "we have the information about it but it will be disclosed in a press conference."

Humanitarian aid groups have been badly constrained in Tigray, with electricity and communications links still cut in the region and main supply routes blocked.

The Tigray fighters, who had long dominated Ethiopia's government and military before a falling-out with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, have demanded the return of services to the region as a condition of any peace negotiations.

In a recent case of blocking aid, a 29-truck convoy carrying World Food Program supplies was denied access and had to return to the Amhara region earlier this week, a U.N. humanitarian worker said. The worker spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

A WFP spokesman, Peter Smerdon, told AP the Tekeze bridge's destruction "will have an impact, but we are currently assessing how much of an impact and whether there is an alternative route we could use to bring in urgently needed food stocks from Gondar to our warehouses in Shire."

He did not say how soon those Shire warehouses would be empty if a supply route cannot be found. The rainy season now beginning in Tigray will further complicate matters.

The cease-fire is limited; Ethiopia's government has said it will last only until the end of the crucial farming season in Tigray, which means September.

Tigray Capital
A key bridge over the Tekeze River into the Tigray region of Ethiopia has been destroyed, eliminating a needed route to deliver food and relief to the warring region. Above, craftsmen make metal sheets from oil drums on a street in Mekele, the capital of Tigray, on June 25, 2021. Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images