Sudan paramilitary RSF targets last operating hospital in Darfur

The armed group fired on and looted the last operating hospital in western Darfur, forcing it to close.

Sudanese soldiers from the Rapid Support Forces unit
Sudanese soldiers from the Rapid Support Forces unit, in the East Nile province, Sudan, on June 22, 2019 [File: Hussein Malla/AP]

The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary in Sudan has attacked the last operating hospital in the Darfur region, an international aid group said.

Doctors Without Borders, known by its French initials MSF, reported late on Sunday that the RSF had attacked the South Hospital in el-Fasher, the capital city of the North Darfur province, the previous day. The armed group opened fire on medical staff and patients as it looted the site, forcing the facility to close.

“It is outrageous that the RSF opened fire inside the hospital. This is not an isolated incident, as staff and patients have endured attacks on the facility for weeks from all sides, but opening fire inside a hospital crosses a line,” said Michel Lacharite, head of emergency operations at MSF.

War erupted in Sudan in mid-April 2023 between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary RSF, creating the world’s largest displacement crisis and killing at least 15,500 people, according to United Nations estimates.

El-Fasher is the last stronghold of the SAF in Darfur and a key humanitarian hub for a region on the brink of famine. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people are sheltering there, forced to survive without basic supplies amid fears that the ongoing fighting around the city – erratically occurring since April 2023 – will turn into an all-out battle for control.

At the time of the attack on the city’s hospital, there were 10 patients and a reduced medical crew on duty, the Sudanese Ministry of Health having already begun evacuation procedures, MSF said.

Most of the remaining patients and medical team managed to flee the shooting, the NGO said. However, it added that “due to the chaos, our team was unable to verify if there were any killed or wounded”.

The attack on the hospital came as RSF intensified its operations around el-Fasher in recent weeks. The surge in fighting has seen more than 120 people killed.

People in the city have called it “hell on Earth, where they could lose their lives any day”, Toby Harward, the UN deputy humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, told Al Jazeera last month.

Between May 25 and June 3, the hospital was hit by mortar shells and bullets three times, killing two people and wounding 14, MSF said.

According to the UN, the war in Sudan has killed tens of thousands of people, including up to 15,000 in a single West Darfur town, since hostilities flared again 14 months ago.

Mohammedali Abunajela, a spokesman for the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), told the Associated Press news agency that the number of internally displaced people in Sudan has reached more than 10 million.

Abunajela said on Monday the tally includes 2.83 million driven from their homes before the current war began by multiple local conflicts that have been happening in recent years.

More than 2 million other people have been driven abroad, mostly to neighboring Chad, South Sudan and Egypt, Abunajela said.

“Imagine a city the size of London being displaced. That’s what it’s like, but it’s happening with the constant threat of crossfire, with famine, disease and brutal ethnic and gender-based violence,” said IOM Director-General Amy Pope in a statement.

Both sides have been accused of war crimes, including deliberately targeting civilians, indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and blocking humanitarian aid.

Widespread sexual violence has also been reported, amounting to crimes against humanity, according to the UN.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies