NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Tigray forces said Saturday they have taken control of a key city on the route to Ethiopia’s capital, while Ethiopia’s government denied it and the United States urged the Tigray fighters to halt their advances as the yearlong war intensifies.

Tigray forces spokesman Getachew Reda told The Associated Press the fighters took the strategic city of Dessie on Saturday afternoon. He also asserted they already had “commanding positions” on the outskirts of the nearby city of Kombolcha and had its airport in their sights.

Ethiopian government spokesman Legesse Tulu rejected that as “fabricated propaganda” and told the AP that Dessie and its surroundings were under military control. Phone calls to residents of Dessie didn’t go through, complicating efforts to verify both sides’ claims.

Taking control of the crossroads city of Dessie and Kombolcha would put the Tigray forces in position to move south along a major highway toward the capital, Addis Ababa. Getachew said “it’s a matter of days” before the fighters will be able to physically link up with another armed group, the Oromo Liberation Army, with which it struck an alliance earlier this year.

The Tigray forces say they are pressuring Ethiopia’s government to lift a months-long blockade on their region of around 6 million people. Thousands of people have been killed since the war began in November 2020 after a political falling-out between the Tigray forces, who long dominated the national government, and the current government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

The Tigray fighters have taken the war into Ethiopia’s neighboring Amhara and Afar regions, moving south through Amhara toward the capital, since recapturing much of their region in June.


“We don’t want to be in charge. We don’t want Abiy to take an entire nation down with him, either,” Getachew said. The prime minister has urged all capable citizens to war.

The U.S. statement on Saturday called on the Tigray forces to halt their advances in and around Dessie and Kombolcha, withdraw from Amhara and Afar and not to use artillery against cities.

The U.S. urged both sides to begin cease-fire negotiations, saying “there is no military solution to this conflict” which it said has cost “countless lives.” It also said it continued to be “alarmed by reports of the deliberate denial of humanitarian assistance” in Tigray, where the United Nations has reported a “de facto humanitarian blockade.”