Sudan’s rival military forces have engaged in battles throughout the capital as intensifying attacks and growing lawlessness add to the misery of civilians already struggling with limited water, food and medicine.
Artillery fire and air strikes were reported on Tuesday with residents in southern and eastern Khartoum and northern Bahri, a city north of the capital, reporting artillery and small-arms fire.
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Looters – some of whom Khartoum residents alleged belong to the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group – have pillaged neighbourhoods across the city, stealing cars, breaking open safes and occupying people’s homes.
“Our neighbourhood has become a warzone. There are fierce clashes and strikes all around. … We are scared of dying, but we are also scared of leaving our house and being burgled,” 45-year-old Jawahir Mohamed said.
Aid groups have struggled to provide assistance to civilians, who also face electricity shortages and dwindling supplies in shops and pharmacies. Neighbourhood-based resistance committees have organised supplies of food and medicines but have struggled to deliver them as fighting intensified this week.
Sudan’s army and RSF fought overnight in the streets of Omdurman, a city across the Nile from Khartoum, near the army’s Engineers Corps base. The army was able to maintain its positions around the base but could not push back the RSF, which controls most of the rest of the city.
Eight weeks of fighting have pitted army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan against his former deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commonly known as “Hemedti”, who commands the RSF.
Hundreds of civilians caught in the clashes have been killed, 400,000 driven across the border and more than 1.2 million have fled the capital and other cities.
Desperate residents in besieged urban areas are losing their patience with the combatants. In Khartoum’s north, witnesses said dozens of protesters gathered on a street chanting: “Burhan is a murderer! Hemedti is a murderer!”
An island besieged
In Khartoum’s city centre – at the confluence of the White Nile and Blue Nile rivers – the island of Tuti is “under total siege” by RSF forces, resident Mohammed Youssef said.
For more than a week, the paramilitary has blocked the only bridge to the island and prevented residents from going by boat to other parts of the capital.
“We can’t move anyone who’s sick to hospitals off the island,” Youssef said, adding that if the fighting persists, “stores will run out of food.”
Empty store and pharmacy shelves “herald a humanitarian catastrophe”, according to a pro-democracy lawyers group that called on the RSF “to open safe corridors and respect the principles of humanitarian law”.
Both sides have repeatedly committed to abiding by international law, declaring humanitarian ceasefires and accusing the other side of violating them.
“Dozens” of “killings, arrests, possible disappearances, attacks on hospitals, sexual violence and other forms of grave violations against children, committed by parties to the conflict” have been documented, the United Nations mission in Sudan said on Monday.
‘Massive humanitarian crisis’
The United States slapped sanctions on the two warring generals last week, blaming both for the “appalling bloodshed” after a US-Saudi Arabia-brokered ceasefire collapsed.
Al-Burhan said on Tuesday he received a phone call from Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and discussed conditions for renewed truce talks.
The army chief “stressed the need for [RSF] rebels to vacate hospitals, service centres and citizens’ homes as well as open humanitarian aid corridors” for negotiations to succeed, according to an army statement.
Hemedti said he also received a call from the top Saudi diplomat days earlier, in which he reiterated the RSF’s “support” for negotiations and “commitment” to ensure civilian protection and humanitarian relief.
Previous ceasefires offered brief lulls in fighting, but there is no respite for the residents of Khartoum.
The western region of Darfur, where the RSF originated and maintains a power base, has also seen heavy fighting.
In Nyala, capital of South Darfur state, medics said they lacked access to even basic medication and equipment, including painkillers, sanitiser and antibiotics.
According to Pierre Kremer of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, civilians face “a massive humanitarian crisis that is only going to get worse with the collapse of the economy”.