Tigrayan rebels announced on Sunday that they have captured the northern Ethiopian town of Kombolcha, making it a rapid advance by the Tigray People's Liberation Front as federal forces begin a battle to recapture the strategic city of Dessie.
The announcement by the TPLF came a day after it claimed control of Dessie, a major victory for the group in the nearly year-long war after it retook most of Tigray from federal forces in June and expanded into neighboring regions.
Most parts of northern Ethiopia is banned to journalists, making verification of reports from both sides virtually impossible.
The conflict in Kombolcha, south of Dessie, has fired speculation that the TPLF was heading closer to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
In Kombolcha, frightened residents told AFP they had spent the day in their homes as gunfire resonated in the streets, with TPLF fighters clashing with Ethiopian soldiers and local militias.
The Tigray region has been subjected to almost daily aerial bombardments by the Ethiopian air force over the past two weeks, targeting, according to Addis Ababa, military infrastructure of the Tigrayan rebels.
According to the TPLF, the bombings have targeted civilian areas. Hospital sources in Mekele, the capital of Tigray, reported around ten deaths and the United Nations reported three casualties on 18 October.
The hostilities have caused widespread displacement and, according to the UN, have left about 400,000 displaced.