The Ethiopian army announced on Wednesday that it had shot down a plane loaded with weapons destined for the Tigray rebels, which had "violated Ethiopian airspace" after flying over Sudan, the official Ethiopian news agency ENA reported, citing a senior officer.
"The plane that violated our airspace from Sudan (...) and which aimed to supply weapons to the terrorist group was shot down by our air force," ENA said, quoting General Tesfaye Ayalew, who did not specify the origin of the aircraft or the date on which it was shot down.
Fighting resumed on Wednesday in border areas of the Tigray region, with Tigrayan rebels and the federal government blaming each other for breaking a five-month truce.
The rebel authorities in Tigray initially accused the federal Ethiopian army of having launched a "large-scale offensive" against their positions, before the Ethiopian government accused them of having "broken" the truce.
The Ethiopian federal forces "launched an offensive early this (Wednesday) morning around 05:00 (02:00 GMT), we are defending our positions," a spokesman for the rebel authorities in Tigray, Getachew Reda, told AFP from Nairobi.
On Twitter, he spoke of a "large-scale offensive" against the "positions on the southern front" of the Tigrayan rebels.
"Disregarding the numerous peace offers made by the Ethiopian government," the Tigray rebel forces "launched an attack today at 05:00" (02:00 GMT) and "broke the truce," the government responded in a statement.
"Our valiant defense forces and all our security forces are responding victoriously and in a coordinated manner to this attack," the government said, calling on the international community to exert "strong pressure" on the rebel authorities in Tigray.
The region is largely cut off from the rest of the country and it is impossible to verify the claims of either side independently.
In reaction to the latest escalation, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, expressed regrets and called for the cessation of hostilities.
**_"I am deeply shocked and saddened by the news of the resumption of hostilities in Ethiopia. Ethiopians, Tigrayans, Amharas, Oromos, Afars have already suffered too much. My strong appeal is for an immediate cessation of hostilities and for the resumption of peace talks between the government and the TPLF (Tigray People's Liberation Front, ed), with at the same time, the full guarantee of humanitarian access to people in need and the reestablishment of public services."_**Guterres said.
- Border areas -
The fighting is the first major conflict to be reported since a truce was agreed in late March by both sides and has so far been largely respected.
Both the government and the rebels reported on Wednesday that there was fighting around the southeastern tip of Tigray, bordering the neighboring regions of Amhara to the west and Afar to the east.
"The offensive on this front ... is aimed at occupying southern Tigray," the Tigrayan rebels accused in a statement.
The Amhara Fano militia - which is supporting government forces against the Tigrayan rebels - says the fighting is taking place in the Mehago and Jemedo areas of the Amhara region, not far from the Kobo area, also in the Amhara region and occupied by the Tigrayan rebels since a counter-offensive in 2021.
The Fano militia claims that no fighting is currently taking place in Tigray itself, although this cannot be independently confirmed.
APDA, an NGO active in the Afar region, reported fighting in a border area between that region and southeast Tigray.
"Federal forces are present in numbers (in the area) of Yallo and are pushing" the Tigrayan rebels "out of Afar.
- Commitments -
The tone had risen in recent days between the federal government and the tiger rebels, with each accusing the other of preparing to resume hostilities, despite repeated commitments by both sides over the past two months to negotiations that have yet to begin.
On Tuesday, the federal Ethiopian army accused the tiger rebels of "defaming" it by accusing it of "moving towards their positions" or "bombing" them.
The African Union (AU), which is based in Addis Ababa and is leading efforts to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table, had still not reacted by early afternoon on Wednesday to the renewed fighting.
The conflict in Tigray began in November 2020, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent the Ethiopian army there to dislodge authorities in the region he accused of attacking military bases there, after challenging his authority for several months.
The federal Ethiopian army was supported by regional forces and amhara militias, as well as an expeditionary force from neighbouring eritrea, troops still present in western tigray.
After initially retreating, the Tigrayan rebels regained control of most of the region in a counter-offensive in mid-2021 in which they entered neighboring Amhara and Afar.
The conflict has caused a severe humanitarian crisis in Tigray, where the economic fabric has been destroyed.