Monday, December 25, 2006

Ethiopia bombs Somalian airport, numerous towns

By Mohamed Olad Hassan
Associated Press

MOGADISHU, Somalia - Abdi Mohamed Osman began closing up his shop in this war-weary capital as soon as he heard: Ethiopia, Somalia's neighbor and longtime archenemy, had launched an attack near the border.
``We are going to support our brothers on the front line,'' said Osman, joining dozens of men who abandoned their stores and kiosks and said they were setting off to fight.
Ethiopia sent fighter jets into Somalia and bombed several towns Sunday in a dramatic attack on Somalia's powerful Islamist movement, which has been battling this country's government for control and has declared a holy war on Ethiopia.
Today, Ethiopian fighter jets bombed Mogadishu International Airport in the middle of Somalia's capital, residents told the Associated Press in telephone interviews. It was the first direct attack on the Islamist movement's headquarters.
Ethiopian and Somalian troops also captured the key border town of Belet Weyne early today, said Col. Abdi Yusuf Ahmed, a Somalian government army commander. Ahmed told the Associated Press that his forces entered the town without a shot fired.
Meanwhile, the artillery and mortar fire was extremely heavy early today south of the interim government's headquarters of Baidoa in central Somalia, said Mohammed Sheik Ali, a resident reached by telephone.
Many Somalis are enraged by the idea of Ethiopian involvement here -- the two countries have fought two wars over their disputed border in the past 45 years. As Sunday's fighting wore on, the Islamist militia began broadcasting patriotic songs in Mogadishu about Somalia's 1977 war with Ethiopia.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi went on television to announce that his country was at war with the Islamist movement that wants to rule by the Koran. Sunday marked the first time Ethiopia acknowledged its troops were fighting in support of Somalia's government, even though witnesses had been reporting their presence for weeks.
``Our defense force has been forced to enter a war to defend (against) the attacks from extremists and anti-Ethiopian forces and to protect the sovereignty of the land,'' Meles said a few hours after his military attacked the Islamist militia with fighter jets and artillery.
No reliable casualty reports were immediately available.
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