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Residents flee Khartoum as fighting continues | News

Thousands of residents fled Sudan’s capital Khartoum, where witnesses said dead bodies lay in the streets after a 24-hour truce between the army and paramilitary forces failed to hold.

Five days of fighting in Khartoum and elsewhere in the northeastern African country had killed at least 270 people as of Wednesday.

“Life in Khartoum is impossible if this war doesn’t stop,” said Alawya al-Tayeb, 33, on his way out of the city.

“I try to keep the children from seeing the dead bodies killed in the street,” she said, adding that her children are currently in shock and need medical treatment.

Violence erupted on Saturday between the forces of the two generals who seized power in a 2021 coup: Army Chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy Mohammad Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, who commanded Paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

The fighting comes after bitter debate over plans to integrate the RSF into the regular army – a key condition for a deal on Sudan’s democratic transition.

Loud explosions shook buildings, heavy gunfire was heard in Khartoum and witnesses said thick black smoke billowed from buildings around the army headquarters in the city centre.

Rapid Support Force fighters in armored vehicles and pickups laden with weapons swarmed the streets. Witnesses said fighter jets roared overhead and opened fire on RSF targets.

Civilians huddled in their homes grew increasingly desperate, with dwindling food supplies, power outages and running water shortages.

A proposed 24-hour humanitarian ceasefire failed to take effect by 16:00 GMT on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the RSF said it was “fully committed to a complete ceasefire”, which also began at 16:00 GMT and lasted 24 hours. The military said it also agreed to a ceasefire.

Thousands of people have taken matters into their own hands and have started leaving their homes in Khartoum, according to eyewitnesses. Some were in cars, others were on foot, including women and children.

Mohamed Saleh, a 43-year-old government employee, said: “We are now heading to Madani to stay with our relatives after my family and children experienced the horror of the bombing.”

“We are very concerned that militants will start attacking homes.”

Hassan Razzaq, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in southern Khartoum, said Wednesday that the streets remained empty.

“I was on Al-Steen Street, which is one of the important roads in Khartoum. It stretches for more than two kilometers. Almost all the shops on both sides of the road are closed,” Razzaq said.

“We observed civilians moving from the confrontation zone to safer places. The street was reminiscent of a ghost town. We observed what looked like displacement from Khartoum to other safer provinces. We heard gunshots from time to time,” he added.

Many of the wounded in the city were unable to reach hospitals, which were also shelled, according to the official doctors’ union.

Some 39 of Khartoum’s 59 main hospitals are currently “out of service”, the union said, and reported “severe shortages” in remaining facilities.

Foreign diplomats were attacked and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said the UN had received “reports of attacks and sexual violence against aid workers”.

Governments have begun planning to evacuate their citizens, many of them UN workers.

Japan said its defense ministry had started “necessary preparations” to evacuate about 60 Japanese nationals, including embassy staff, from Sudan.

Berlin on Wednesday suspended an evacuation operation involving three military transport planes that could have carried 150 citizens, Der Spiegel weekly reported.

The U.S. embassy in Khartoum said it had begun collecting citizens’ personal details while urging them to stay indoors and away from windows.

“Due to the uncertain security situation in Khartoum and the closure of the airport, there are no plans [a] U.S. government coordinated evacuation,” it tweeted.

Among the violence, a US diplomatic convoy was shot at, an EU ambassador was attacked at his home and a Belgian humanitarian official was hospitalized after being shot.

Aid groups have reported looting of medical and other supplies.

Al Jazeera’s Shiba Morgan in Khartoum said many residents reported RSF personnel entering their homes and robbing them.

“People worry about opening their doors when they hear a knock because they don’t know if it’s a relative in need or an armed person,” Morgan said.

Meanwhile, shopkeepers and traders in the capital’s central region also reported looting and vandalism.

“Traders say their shops and markets have been looted and completely destroyed by the RSF,” Morgan said.

“Residents say that even if the fighting ends, the aftermath of the fighting – looting and attacks – won’t end any time soon,” she added.

The latest violence comes after more than 120 civilians have been killed in a crackdown on regular pro-democracy demonstrations over the past 18 months.

Both generals have positioned themselves as saviors of Sudan and defenders of democracy in a country that has experienced only brief interludes of democracy.

The violence that erupted on Saturday was the culmination of deep-seated divisions between the army and the RSF, which was created in 2013 by longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir.

In April 2019, Burhan joined Hemeti in overthrowing al-Bashir following mass protests against his three-decade iron-fisted rule.

In October 2021, the pair led a military coup against the civilian government that was installed after al-Bashir was overthrown, undermining an internationally-backed transition.

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