"This will be a wonderful opportunity for the Somali leaders to  demonstrate to the international community their strong commitment  and determination to restore peace and stability to Somalia."

However, hostilities continue in Mogadishu, the capital, between pro- and anti-government forces.

President's jet targeted
 
A mortar shell exploded near an aircraft carrying Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the president, as it was preparing on Sunday to take off from Mogadishu airport, officials and witnesses said.

Yusuf was headed to Djibouti for the peace talks.

According to an African Union peacekeeper at the airport, three shells struck the airport and one exploded near the jet on Sunday.

Hussein Mohamed Mohamud, the presidential spokesman, said the attack was not an assassination attempt.

He said the fighters "tried to disrupt the president's departure to Djibouti but they failed".

Al Jazeera's Mohammed Adow, reporting from Djibouti, said: "These talks are considered extremely crucial to the future of Somalia, and whether or not this long-running conflict can be resolved."

He said the opposition Islamic Courts' Union and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) continue to be at odds over the conditions to bring peace to the country.

"The Islamic Courts' Union and the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, their allies, demand the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops.
 
"If the TFG does not accept this, they believe that there is no point to these discussions," Adow said.

Breakthrough
 
A first round of discussions on May 16 ended without direct talks between the rivals.
 
Nevertheless, the move was seen as a breakthrough in efforts to end a conflict which has seen at least 6,000 civilians die in fighting over the past year, according to international rights groups and aid agencies.

Christian Balslev-Olesen, a Unicef representative to Somalia, told Al Jazeera that both sides need to commit to a political agreement in order for the humanitarian situation to improve.

"A major humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Somalia, and political progress needs to be made," he said.
African Union peacekeepers have also
been the target of attacks [AFP]
"Both sides need to commit to an agreement that will allow humanitarian aid to come to those that need it.

"Political progress is a precondition to obtaining humanitarian assistance. The Somali people need feel this progress, there cannot be a gap to what is agreed and what the reality is on the ground."
 
The African Union (AU), which has around 2,600 peacekeepers deployed in Somalia, also lent its support to the Djibouti talks.
  
The AU's Peace and Security Council said in a statement issued on Friday it had "encouraged the parties to pursue their efforts in a spirit of compromise and mutual accommodation in order to promote national  reconciliation and lasting peace in Somalia".

It also urged Somali factions that have so far shunned the process to participate in the negotiations.

While some Muslim leaders and influential clan leaders have joined the discussions, other opposition leaders claim the mediation was biased and continue to demand an Ethiopian withdrawal before talks can start.
 
Security Council tour
 
The negotiations in Djibouti will receive a boost on Monday with the visit of a delegation from the UN Security Council.

The team arrived on Sunday night in Nairobi at the start of a six-country trip across Africa to promote peace in Somalia, Darfur and eastern Congo, and to try to prevent a new civil war between Sudan's government and southern groups.
 
The council's nine-day tour includes stops in Kenya, Djibouti, Sudan, Chad, Congo and Ivory Coast.
 
Congo, its democracy still fragile, heads towards local elections next year, while Ivory Coast, which recently emerged from civil war, will hold presidential elections on November 30.
 
John Sawers, Britain's UN ambassador, said that as the council considers the conflict in Darfur, he expects it to pay as much attention to preserving the fragile 2005 north-south peace agreement, which ended Sudan's 21-year civil war that claimed over two million lives.