Tigray Rebels Seize Lalibela UNESCO World Heritage Site In Ethiopia

Rebels seize a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ethiopia's Tigray Region. 

The takeover comes after Ethiopia's civil war lasted nine months. 

  • The hamlet of Lalibela, home to UNESCO-protected 12th and 13th-century rock-hewn cathedrals, has allegedly been captured by rebel troops from Ethiopia's Tigray region. 
  • Lalibela village in the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia, near the Sudanese border. 
  • The confiscation has sparked concerns about the holy site's safety. 
  • This is the latest episode in Ethiopia's horrific civil conflict, which has killed tens of thousands of people and forced more than 1.8 million people to flee their homes, putting them at danger of famine. 

The deadly war started in November, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent army troops to Tigray's northern region, which borders Eritrea, to crush political opposition. 

Since then, his administration has formed an alliance with Eritrea to combat the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which controlled Ethiopia for three decades until Ahmed's ascension in 2018. 

  • Ahmed, who was originally hailed as a reformer after winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for ending a decades-long conflict with Eritrea, is now accused of abusing power, brutally repressing opponents, and committing war crimes. 
  • According to reports from Ethiopia, the Ethiopian army and its supporters have perpetrated murders, ethnic cleansing, and rampant sexual assault. 

According to the United Nations, more than 400,000 people in Tigray, an impoverished area that has long suffered from food shortages, are now facing famine. 

  • According to the UN, the situation is the "biggest worldwide famine in decades," with another 1.8 million people on the verge of starvation. 
  • In June, the TPLF took control of Mekelle, Tigray's capital, and refused Ahmed's government's last-minute ceasefire offer. 
  • The conflict has now spread to Amhara, where local militias have formed an alliance with the central authority. 

There is now concern that the conflict may jeopardize the integrity of 11 ancient monolithic cathedrals in Lalibela, which are holy to millions of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Some people left the town, according to eyewitnesses, but Reuters was unable to independently verify these reports. 

  • Over 250,000 people have already been displaced from their homes in the surrounding regions. 
  • Several Tigrayian heritage sites have been targeted by the central government and its allies throughout the conflict, in what has been dubbed "cultural cleansing." 
  • In February, Eritrean forces were accused of carrying out a brutal massacre in the country's most sacred Orthodox church, which is located in the Tigrayian town of Axum. 

The ancient Ark of the Covenant is said to be housed in the church, according to locals. 

  • According to accounts, the assault killed 800 people. 
  • Eritrean troops attacked Tigray's historic Debre Damo monastery in January, looting its antiquities. 
  • They also demolished and burned more than two dozen monks' shelters. 

When questioned about the threat to Lalibela's ancient churches today, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that the US has urged fighters to "preserve this cultural legacy."