Ethiopian forces have launched their offensive against Mekelle, the capital of the rebellious northern Tigray region.

There would be fierce fighting on the ground and the city bombed, eyewitnesses, aid organizations and diplomats say Saturday to various media, including the

Reuters

news

agency

and

CNN

.

Mekelle is located approximately 500 kilometers north of the capital Addis Abeba.

The city would be shot at by heavy artillery, several eyewitnesses and an aid organization told

CNN.

This raises concerns for the safety of the city's 500,000 residents, half of whom are minors, according to UNICEF.

In the offensive, the safety of Ethiopians in Mekelle and Tigray is a "priority," said a spokesman for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Last week, Ahmed issued an ultimatum to Tigray's autonomous leaders to surrender.

That ultimatum expired on Wednesday, but the start of the offensive on the regional capital was postponed.

Conflict between Ethiopia and local leaders, the Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF), is estimated to have killed thousands of people and 43,000 others fled.

Fear of civilian casualties

A legion of countries and international organizations are calling on Ahmed to stop the offensive.

They fear, among other things, many civilian casualties and that the war will ignite other ethnic conflicts in diverse Ethiopia.

Both sides of the fight come out with multiple messages, but it is difficult to verify.

Communication with the region has been cut off by the central government.

Fierce quarrel about elections and influence

The conflict between TPLF and the federal government flared up last August.

Ahmed then postponed the elections due to the corona virus.

In protest, the TPLF held an election after all.

In November, the central government launched an offensive after the TPLF allegedly attacked a government military base.

The TPLF had long had a lot of influence in the central government, but it declined because of Ahmed's reforms in 2018. The prime minister also made peace with neighboring Eritrea, the TPLF's nemesis.

The TPLF was instrumental in two recent wars between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The TPLF is still well-armed and has many experienced armed forces.

See also: The conflict in Ethiopia is escalating: what's going on?