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NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — An Ethiopian drone strike has killed 17 civilians in the country’s Tigray region on the day that President Joe Biden during a call with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed expressed concern about such attacks in the ongoing war, local authorities say.

A report by the zonal administration said women at a flour-grinding mill made up most of those killed in the Monday drone strike near Mai Tsebri, a source who saw the report told The Associated Press. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about it to reporters.

Such drone strikes have been reported almost daily in Tigray, a humanitarian worker in the town of Shire told the AP, with an attack over the weekend on a displaced persons camp in Dedebit killing at least 57 people and wounding more than 130, many of them children. The aid worker shared photos of partially charred bodies and small corpses laid out on the ground.

A spokesman for Ethiopia’s government and military didn’t respond to questions about Monday’s drone strike.

Biden expressed concerns in Monday’s phone call with Ethiopia’s prime minister about detentions and civilian killings in the war against Tigray forces, while commending Abiy for the release of several high-profile political prisoners.

The White House said Biden raised to Abiy the airstrikes that continue to cause civilian casualties and suffering in Africa’s second most populous nation.

The statement added that the leaders “discussed ways to accelerate dialogue toward a negotiated cease-fire, the urgency of improving humanitarian access across Ethiopia, and the need to address the human rights concerns of all affected Ethiopians, including concerns about detentions of Ethiopians under the state of emergency.”

Abiy on Twitter described the conversation with Biden as “candid” and both agreed “there is great value in strengthening our cooperation through constructive engagement founded on mutual respect.”

The call was requested by Biden after Jeffrey Feltman, the outgoing U.S. special envoy to the Horn of Africa, visited Ethiopia last week for talks with senior leaders.

The more than yearlong war has created a devastating humanitarian crisis. The conflict entered a new phase in late December when Tigray forces retreated into their region amid a new military offensive and Ethiopian forces said they would not advance further there.

Biden stressed to Abiy that the two sides must take advantage of the moment and called on the Ethiopian leader to improve humanitarian access, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the leaders’ call on the condition of anonymity. White House officials are concerned that if momentum is not maintained, the conflict—which has left thousands dead and hundreds of thousands facing famine—could further deteriorate.

Ethiopia’s government has sought to restrict reporting on the conflict and detained some journalists, including a video freelancer accredited to the AP, Amir Aman Kiyaro.


Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed.