By Uganda Online Correspondent
Ethiopia: Tigray rebels have recaptured the north Ethiopian town of Lalibela less than two weeks after government forces and their allies took control of the UNESCO World Heritage town.
Tigrayan fighters “are in the town center, there’s no fighting,” one of the residents confirmed to the press.
Lalibela is home to 11 medieval rock-cut churches and a site of pilgrimage for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group’s military leadership said in a statement shared with pro-TPLF media they had launched “widespread counter-offensives” in numerous locations including along the road linking Gashena and Lalibela.
“Our forces first defended and then carried out counter-offensives against the massive force that was attacking the front at Gashena and the surrounding areas to achieve a glorious victory,” the statement said.
One of the witnesses according to Aljazeera news said that special forces from the Amhara region and their fighter allies, both allies of the Ethiopian government, began leaving Lalibela on Saturday night.
“The last batch left this morning. We heard gunshots from a distance last night but the Tigrayan forces recaptured Lalibela without firing guns in the town,” said the witness.
Military sources have revealed that pro-government forces are advancing towards the city of Waldia – a stronghold of the TPLF.
Forces aligned with the TPLF had taken control of the town in early August but on December 1, Ethiopian troops and their Amhara regional allies recaptured the town.
That news was one of a number of reported gains on the battlefield against the Tigrayan forces, who had in November pushed south and threatened to march on Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.
In a tweet late on Saturday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office said he had “headed to the front again” and forces under his leadership had captured several strategic locations in Afar and Amhara including the towns of Arjo, Fokisa and Boren.
Abiy went to lead military operations himself, addressing citizens wearing a combat uniform and surrounded by soldiers.
“We will continue the remaining areas … nothing will stop us. The enemy will be destroyed,” he said this week.
The offensive recaptured many towns this month, the prime minister’s office said, pushing Tigrayan forces back more than 180 km.
Last week the government announced its forces had recaptured the strategic towns of Dessie and Kombolcha.
Earlier this month the government said its forces recaptured several small towns including Shewa Robit, a town some 220km (135 miles) from the capital Addis Ababa.
In late November Ethiopia’s state-run broadcaster said government forces seized the town of Chifra in Afar region.