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Africa
Civilians killed in Somali fighting
Up to 17 people killed as government forces clash with al-Shabab fighters in Mogadishu.
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2010 04:46 GMT
Civilians have borne the brunt of the fighting between government forces and al-Shabab fighters [AFP]

At least 17 civilians have been killed after Somali government forces, supported by African Union peacekeepers, launched attacks against fighters from al-Shabab, the armed anti-government group, in Mogadishu.

Among the dead are six women and a family of five whose home was destroyed by shelling, Ali Muse, the head of the city's ambulance service, said on Thursday.

He said at least 61 other civilians were wounded in the heavy shelling and gun-battles that started early on Thursday in northern Mogadishu.

Most of the victims lived in the Somali capital's Kaaran district, the scene of heavy exchanges of shellfire between the two sides.

Residents said the government soldiers were backed by AU peacekeepers in armoured vehicles.

Some of the shelling, mainly fired from government positions and AU bases, randomly hit southern and northern parts of the war-scared city, Muse said.

Areas captured

A senior Somali military official claimed victory and said government forces will hold on to the areas they captured.

"We have driven insurgents from a large swath of the capital and we will not withdraw from those conquered areas like we used to do before," General Ali Araye, the infantry commander, said.

IN DEPTH


 Timeline: Somalia
 Restoring Somalia
 A long road to stability
 Al-Shabab: Somali fighters undeterred
 Somalia at a crossroads
 Somaliland: Africa's isolated state
 What next for Somalia?
 Profile: Sharif Ahmed
 
Who are al-Shabab?
 Riz Khan: The vanishing Somalis

He also said there will be further offensives against the fighters.

Araye, however, said this is not the start of the government's long-awaited offensive to drive out fighters from Mogadishu.

Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, al-Shabab's spokesman, denied that his group's fighters were defeated during Thursday's attack, saying that they had inflicted casualties on government forces.

Al-Shabab fighters are trying to hold on to the city's north, which puts the presidential palace, known as Villa Somalia, within easy range of their crude mortar rockets.

Last month, al-Shabab claimed its forces would soon seize the palace.

Tensions also remained high in the Galgadud region of central Somalia where clashes betweenal-Shabab and the Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca group, a pro-government militia, killed 24 people on Wednesday.

Thursday's shelling disrupted businesses in the city's largest trading centre, Bakara market.

Bustling market

The market is usually bustling with business despite tensions in the capital.

The area it is in, however, is controlled by al-Shabab and its allied group, Hizbul Islam.

Over the past three years the market has seen near-daily shelling between fighters, and the AU and Somali soldiers.

Somalia has had no effective government for 19 years and Western nations and neighbours say the country is used as a shelter by fighters planning attacks in East Africa and further afield.

More than 21,000 civilians have been killed since the start of the violence.

Source:
Agencies
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