Ethiopian rebels claim control of the city, prompting government denials.

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Ethiopian rebels claim control of the city, prompting government denials.

Tigrayan rebels claimed “complete possession” of the crucial northern Ethiopian city of Dessie on Saturday, prompting an angry denial from the government, even as residents reported federal soldiers retreating from the area.

After retaking most of Tigray from federal forces in June and expanding its presence into neighboring districts, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has taken a new step in its offensive in the almost year-long battle by capturing Dessie.

“Our soldiers have complete control of the city of Dessie,” TPLF spokesman Kindeya Gebrehiwot declared on Twitter.

“Dessie and its surrounds are still under our security troops,” Ethiopia’s government responded to the insurgents’ allegation.

Residents, meanwhile, told AFP that Ethiopian forces had withdrawn from Dessie after intense combat and power failures.

Much of northern Ethiopia is cut off from the outside world, and journalists have limited access, making combat statements difficult to verify independently.

“Ethiopian soldiers began evacuating from the region around 2 a.m.,” said Amir, a Dessie local who declined to give his last name.

Another local, who only gave his name as Mohammed, reported that TPLF fighters “entered the city, with ENDF (Ethiopian National Defense Force) personnel not seen.”

“I’m not sure if the soldiers fled or were kidnapped,” he told AFP, adding that he was attempting to flee to the southern town of Kombolcha.

Dessie is around 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, in the Amhara region, which borders Tigray.

Residents had previously reported a large military presence in the area, while civilians fleeing conflict-torn communities to the north flocked to Dessie in search of safety.

The TPLF stated on October 20 that the rebels were “within artillery range” of Kombolcha and Dessie.

The following day, Yilkal Kefale, the Amhara regional president, asked armed Amharas to march on Dessie to defend it.

As gunfire in Dessie subsided on Saturday afternoon, TPLF rebels roamed the streets while people crowded into buses bound for the south, according to a local shopkeeper.

“People are either at home or… fleeing to Kombolcha,” added the man, who only gave his first name Fantahun.

“We’re in a tense situation,” he added, adding that he and other merchants had all locked their doors because they were afraid of violence.

Kindeya, a spokesman for the TPLF, warned Kombolcha locals to “remain in-doors,” possibly indicating that further combat is on the way.

Since last week, Tigray has been subjected to near-daily aircraft bombardments as a result of the military’s actions. The Washington Newsday Brief News is a daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C.

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