By Addis Getachew
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AA) - The last bastion of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the city of Mekele and its surroundings, came under attack by the Ethiopian army Thursday.
This is the third and last phase of the central government's operations that started on Nov. 4 in the restive northern region of Tigray after TPLF forces stormed the Northern Command of the federal army.
Heavy clashes ensued in the last few weeks between the federal army and fighters loyal to the renegade TPLF.
In a statement, prime minister Abiy Ahmed said the utmost care would be taken to protect civilians during the operation.
The city of Mekele, which is also the capital of Tigray state, is home to half a million people.
Over two weeks of fighting, more than 41,000 people have fled their homes into neighboring Sudan.
Fears of a surge in refugee numbers are mounting as the operations continued after a 72-hour government ultimatum expired for the TPLF leadership to surrender.
On other fronts, TPLF fighters have reportedly surrendered in the thousands, according to the Ethiopian army spokespersons.