Fierce fighting has resumed in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, after an hours-long pause to address humanitarian needs on the second day of deadly battles between rival military factions jostling for control of the African country.
The clashes between Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have killed at least 97 civilians by the end of Sunday, according to a doctor’s group, sparking an international outcry and regional concern, including border closures by neighbours Egypt and Chad.
The regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) held an emergency meeting on the situation in Sudan and said it plans to send the presidents of Kenya, South Sudan and Djibouti to Khartoum as soon as possible to reconcile the conflicting groups.
The violence, which began on Saturday, was the first such outbreak since the rival factions joined forces to remove Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir in 2019 and was sparked by a disagreement over the integration of the RSF into the military as part of a transition towards civilian rule.
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Witnesses said deafening explosions and intense gunfire continued to rattle buildings in Khartoum’s densely-populated northern and southern suburbs on Sunday as tanks rumbled along the streets and fighter jets roared overhead.
As night fell, residents of the capital hunkered down in their homes for a second day, fearing that a prolonged conflict could plunge the country into deeper chaos, dashing long-held hopes for a transition to civilian-led democracy.
“We’re scared, we haven’t slept for 24 hours because of the noise and the house shaking. We’re worried about running out of water and food, and medicine for my diabetic father,” Huda, a young resident in southern Khartoum told the Reuters news agency.
“There’s so much false information and everyone is lying. We don’t know when this will end, how it will end,” she added.
The Sudanese Doctor’s Union said the civilian death toll from the two days of fighting has risen to at least 97. It added that hundreds more were injured, while the World Health Organization warned that “several of the nine hospitals in Khartoum receiving injured civilians have run out of blood, transfusion equipment, intravenous fluids and other vital supplies”.
Late on Sunday afternoon, the army said they had “agreed to a United Nations proposal to open safe passage for humanitarian cases”, including evacuation of the wounded, for three hours, which ended at 17:00 GMT.
RSF confirmed the measure and both sides maintained their right to “respond in the event of transgressions” from the other side.
Despite the pause, heavy gunfire could still be heard in central Khartoum near the airport, and dense black smoke billowed from the surrounding area.
Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from Khartoum on Sunday evening, said the three-hour humanitarian ceasefire announced by the warring sides has come to an end.
“The duration for the short period of ceasefire has already passed. It was from around four o’clock local time to seven. Within that three-hour period, we were able to hear the sounds of heavy artillery in various parts of the capital, Khartoum. We were able to see smoke rising from the southern and northern parts of the city,” Morgan said.
“The whole purpose of the three-hour ceasefire period was to allow those who were trapped around the vicinity of the presidential palace, around the vicinity of the general command of the army, to be able to escape – as well as those trapped in areas near the RSF bases which are facing air strikes by the Sudanese army fighter jets.”
The violence erupted following weeks of power struggles between army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, who heads the heavily-armed RSF. Each accused the other of starting the fight.
The RSF claimed it had seized the presidential palace, Khartoum airport and other strategic locations, but the army insisted it was still in control.
Reuters, citing witnesses, reported renewed army air raids on Sunday on RSF bases in Omdurman, Khartoum’s sister city across the Nile, as well as in the Kafouri and Sharg En Nile districts of adjacent Bahri.
Fighting also erupted in the western Darfur region and in the eastern border state of Kassala, where witness Hussein Saleh said the army had fired artillery at an RSF camp.
‘Justice without delay’
The UN said three employees of its World Food Programme (WFP) had been killed on Saturday in clashes in North Darfur and announced a “temporary halt to all operations in Sudan”.
After their deaths, as well as those of other civilians, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “justice without delay”. He had earlier warned that an escalation in the fighting would “further aggravate the already precarious humanitarian situation”.
The UN says one-third of Sudan’s population is in need of humanitarian aid.
Appeals to end the fighting have come from across the region and the globe, including the United States, the United Kingdom, China, the European Union and Russia, while Pope Francis said he was following the events “with concern” and urged dialogue.
At a meeting of the eight-member IGAD bloc, regional leaders called for “decisive action on the crisis in Sudan” and appealed for an “immediate cessation of hostilities between the warring parties”.
The bloc resolved to send Kenya’s William Ruto, South Sudan’s Salva Kiir and Djibouti’s Ismail Omar Guelleh to Sudan “at the earliest possible time to reconcile the conflicting groups”, according to the Kenyan president’s office.
IGAD leaders said “stability in Sudan is key to the social and economic stability of the region”, Ruto’s office said on Twitter. “The leaders also asked the two groups to provide a safe corridor for humanitarian assistance in Khartoum and other affected towns.”
The conflict, they added, undermines the peace progress achieved over the last four months.
The leaders also asked the two groups to provide a safe corridor for humanitarian assistance in Khartoum and other affected towns. pic.twitter.com/HmzebMEUVu
— State House Kenya (@StateHouseKenya) April 16, 2023
The African Union also said a senior official would “immediately” travel to Sudan on a ceasefire mission.