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Do the Images Show the Ethiopian Army Bombing Tigray with White Phosphorus?

Avatar: Hagos Gebreamlak
Hagos GebreamlakJune 15, 2021
HAQCHECKFact checking
Do the Images Show the Ethiopian Army Bombing Tigray with White Phosphorus?

Recently images showing military aircraft and an airforce operation have been circulating across social media platforms, particularly on Facebook. On 13 June 2021, a Facebook post by Mekseb Tewahdo (an account with 1,558 friends) shared two images with a note that says Ethiopian and Eritrean armies were dropping white phosphorus against civilians in Abi Adi, Tenben on June 13, 2021. The post also claims that so far two children and a mother have died due to the attack. Over 430 accounts have shared this post. 

On the same day, another Facebook page dubbed Tigrai Online, which has over 122,293 followers, shared these two images to support a claim that the Ethiopian and Eritrean armies were bombing Abi Adi, Tenben using cluster bombs and white phosphorus and killed two and injured one person. An hour later, the post was edited, adding that the images used are old. But it had already misled many, as the post was shared more than 1500 times.

HaqCheck has investigated the images and the posts, confirming that the pictures do not show either Ethiopian or Eritrean armies bombing Tigray using white phosphorus or cluster bombs. HaqCheck has rated the post as FALSE due to the usage of inaccurate and old images.

Since 4 November 2020, there has been armed fighting between TPLF-led regional and Federal government-led forces in Tigray. The federal army has controlled major areas in Tigray, but there have been reports of armed conflicts and guerilla attacks in the region. On May 23, 2021, The Daily Telegraph, a London-based newspaper came out with a story that it found exclusive footage and accounts of witnesses and victims that suggest the Ethiopian and Eritrean armies may have used powerful incendiary weapons including white phosphorus in civilian areas. On the same day, the Ethiopian Ministry of Affairs (MoFA) issued a statement denying the use of chemical weapons in Tigray. It said, “Ethiopia has not employed and will never use such banned munitions because it takes its international obligations under the chemical weapons convention extremely seriously.”

Against this backdrop, the Facebook posts claimed that the Ethiopian and Eritrean armies are bombing Abi Adi, Tigray using white phosphorus and cluster bombs. 

However, a Google reverse image search shows that the images don't back the claim. The first image shows white phosphorus rained from a weapon on August 3, 2013, during a live-fire exercise in Australia. Here is the link to the original image. The second image shows an aircraft that belongs to the Uzbekistan Airforce during operation. The image was first published on Facebook on January 18, 2020. The original post related to the image can be accessed with the following link.

Granted, there have been unconfirmed allegations that the Ethiopian army may use chemical weapons including white phosphorus in Tigray. However, HaqCheck has interrogated the post and the images and confirmed that the images don't confirm the claim. HaqCheck has therefore rated the post as FALSE due to inaccurate usage of the images.

Fact Checked by: Hagos Gebreamlak

Edited by: Fasika Tadesse

The following article is part of HaqCheck, Addis Zeybe’s multilingual fact checking initiative, which is run by its R&D Department.

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A PIECE BYHagos Gebreamlak

Hagos has a BA degree in Political Science and International Relations from Addis Ababa University. He worked for Addis Fortune (Independent News & Media Plc) as a reporter. Hagos is currently working as a fact-checker at Addis Zeybe.