Tigray capital Mekelle under intense bombardment.

The capital of Ethiopia's Tigray region, Mekelle, is under fierce bombardment, a humanitarian source on the ground and eyewitnesses who have fled the city told CNN on Saturday.

Fierce fighting has broken out in Mekelle, the eyewitness said, two days after Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed warned the country has entered the "final phase" of a "law enforcement" military operation in the northern restive region of Tigray after a 72-hour deadline to surrender expired.

The leader of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) Debretsion Gebremichael also told Reuters in a text message on Saturday Mekelle was under "heavy bombardment."

A communications blackout in the region has made reporting on claims from both sides difficult.

International leaders have repeatedly expressed grave concern for the disruption of humanitarian access and for violence against civilians during fighting in Mekelle. About half a million residents live in Mekelle, half of whom are children, according to UNICEF.

"I urge Ethiopian leaders to do everything possible to protect civilians, uphold human rights and ensure humanitarian access," UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres tweeted on Wednesday.

CNN's Nima Elbagir reported from London, Bethlehem Feleke reported from Nairobi and Awad Ismael and Salah Nasir reported from the Sudan-Ethiopia border.

Patmos MediaLine had reported that Prime Minister Abiy had welcomed African Union Enoys in the Ethiopian Capital on Friday but refused them access to Mekelle

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