Khartoum was rocked by further shelling on Friday after several international leaders called Sudan’s army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, urging him to agree to a ceasefire in conjunction with the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday.
Among those calling the army chief were Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and the Egyptian intelligence chief, according to an army statement.
Thousands of civilians have fled Sudan’s capital since a violent power struggle broke out last weekend between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), under General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the previously allied leaders of Sudan’s ruling military government. Large numbers also crossed into Chad to flee fighting in the western region of Darfur.
Eid, which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month, begins on Friday in Sudan.
“There are still clashes between army forces and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), leaving buildings, facilities and public property destroyed,” the Reuters news agency quoted a doctors’ committee as having said.
The RSF issued a statement that made no mention of a possible truce and condemned the military for what it said were new assaults.
“At this moment, when citizens are preparing to receive the first day of Eid al-Fitr, the neighbourhoods of Khartoum are waking up to the bombings of aircrafts and heavy artillery in a sweeping attack that is directly targeting residential neighbourhoods,” the RSF said early on Friday.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was among the leading calls for Sudan’s warring factions to observe a three-day truce over Eid to allow civilians to reach safety. At least 350 people have been killed in the fighting so far.
A doctors’ group separately said at least 26 people were killed and 33 injured in El-Obeid, a city west of Khartoum, on Thursday. Witnesses there described clashes between the army and RSF troops as well as widespread looting.
The US said it was sending more troops to the region in the event that it decided to evacuate its embassy in Khartoum. The fiercest battles between the army and the RSF have been around Khartoum – one of Africa’s largest urban areas – and in Darfur, a region still scarred by a long-running conflict that ended three years ago.
Guterres, speaking to reporters after meeting virtually with the heads of the African Union, the Arab League and other organisations, said: “There was a strong consensus on condemning ongoing fighting in Sudan and calling for cessation of hostilities as an immediate priority.”
Civilians trapped in conflict zones should be allowed to escape and seek medical treatment, food and other supplies, he said.
General al-Burhan told Al Jazeera he would support a truce on the condition it allowed citizens to move freely – something he said the RSF had so far prevented. He also said he currently saw no partner for negotiations and “no other option but the military solution”.
His rival, Dagalo, meanwhile, he was ready to implement a three-day truce over Eid. Dagalo, widely known as Hemedti, has said several times he supported the ceasefires.
“We are talking about a humanitarian truce, we are talking about safe passages… we are not talking about sitting down with a criminal,” Dagalo said, referring to al-Burhan.
Al-Burhan accused Dagalo, until last week his deputy on the council that has ruled since a coup two years ago, of “a power grab”. An alliance between the two men had mostly held since the overthrow four years ago of longtime strongman Omar al-Bashir.
The latest violence was triggered by disagreement about an internationally backed plan to form a new civilian government. Both sides have accused the other of thwarting the transition.
“The two leaders’ talk about the truce is nothing more than a political tactic and neither of them is ready for serious negotiations,” said former US diplomat Timothy Carney.
“The new Sudanese state cannot have two independent armies,” he added.
Gunfire in the morning
Since hostilities erupted, much of the fighting has focused on the compound that includes the army headquarters and al-Burhan’s residence. The embassy district and airport have also been the scene of clashes.
In Khartoum and sister cities Omdurman and Bahri, residents gathered at bus terminals with suitcases amid explosions and gunfire on Thursday.
“There’s no food. Supermarkets are empty. The situation isn’t safe, honestly, so people are leaving,” said a resident who gave only his first name, Abdelmalek.
Many other people remain trapped, including thousands of foreigners in a city that has become a war zone.
Burnt-out vehicles littered the streets and buildings had gaping holes from shells. Hospitals, where bodies lie unburied, were closed. Reporting from the capital late on Thursday, Al Jazeera’s Haitham Uweit said there was “a sense of calm” after a warplane was heard bombing several sites.
“Everyone is waiting to see if the two warring parties will declare a new truce because of Eid,” he said, adding that a “sad feeling” hung over many Sudanese at a time when they would traditionally be celebrating.
“There are no manifestations of welcoming Eid in light of the mass flight of people of Khartoum. Usually, the Sudanese visit the neighbouring villages in a celebration of Eid but now, they go there in sad circumstances,” Haitham Uweit added.
In Geneva, the World Health Organization urged the warring factions to open a safe corridor for medics and to allow those trapped to flee.
Approximately 10,000 to 20,000 people escaping the fighting have taken refuge in villages along the border inside Chad, the UN refugee agency UNHCR and the World Food Programme (WFP) said.
Source: Al Jazeera