Heavy explosions and gunfire rocked Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, and its twin city of Omdurman early Friday, residents said, despite the extension of a fragile truce between the country’s two top generals whose power struggle has killed hundreds.
After two weeks of fighting that has turned Khartoum into a war zone and thrown Sudan into turmoil, a wide-ranging group of international mediators – including African and Arab nations, the United Nations and the United States – were intensifying their pressure on the rival generals to enter talks on resolving the crisis.
So far, however, they have managed to achieve only a series of fragile temporary ceasefires that failed to stop clashes but created enough of a lull for tens of thousands of Sudanese to flee to safer areas and for foreign nations to evacuate thousands of their citizens by land, air and sea.
In a sign of the persistent chaos, Turkey said one of its evacuation planes was hit by gunfire outside Khartoum with no casualties on Friday, hours after both sides accepted a 72-hour truce extension.
The U.K. said it would end its evacuation flights on Saturday evening, after numbers of British citizens seeking an airlift began to decline. After a slow start that attracted criticism, Britain has run regular military flights from an airfield near Khartoum to Cyprus. As of Friday evening, it had airlifted 1,573 people, including nationals of several European countries.
“You have another 24 hours if you are eligible to make your way to the airport and we will get you on a plane,” Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said.
Fierce clashes with frequent explosions and gunfire continued Friday in Khartoum’s upscale neighbourhood of Kafouri, where the military’s warplanes bombed its rivals, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, residents said. Clashes were also reported around the military’s headquarters, the Republican Palace and the area close to the Khartoum international airport. All these areas have been flashpoints since the war erupted on April 15. Explosions also rang out across the river in Omdurman.
Doctors in the Sudanese capital said the RSF has been abducting medical personnel to treat its wounded fighters – a sign the paramilitary was struggling to get medical support.
One doctor forwarded to the Associated Press a voice note shared on a chat group for Sudanese health care workers, warning them not to wear medical uniforms or hand over identification listing a profession if fighters stop them on the street.
Nada Fadul, a Sudanese-American infectious disease physician at the University of Nebraska who is working with community health leaders in Sudan, said she knows of five doctors taken by the RSF from Khartoum streets since the start of the fighting.
One abducted doctor said he was forcibly taken to an unknown location in Khartoum earlier this week. There, he saw dozens of wounded fighters, a stockpile of medical supplies and two other kidnapped doctors working. He spent three days treating fighters with gunshot wounds, burns and other injuries before he and the others were released on Wednesday night, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for his safety.
The Turkish Defence Ministry said “light weapons were fired” at a C-130 aircraft heading to Wadi Sayidna airbase on Khartoum’s northern outskirts to evacuate Turkish civilians. The plane landed safely, the ministry said in a tweet, and no personnel were injured.
The Sudanese military blamed the RSF, which denied firing on the plane.
Over the past 14 days of pummelling each other, the military led by General Abdel Fattah Burhan and the RSF led by General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, have each failed to deal a decisive blow to the other in their struggle for control of Africa’s third-largest nation.
Still, world powers have struggled to get them to adhere to announced ceasefires. A bloc of East Africa nations has put forward an initiative for the two sides to hold talks, and a gamut of mediators are promoting the plan, including the African Union, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the United Nations.
Gen. Burhan on Friday ruled out negotiations with Gen. Dagalo, accusing him of orchestrating a rebellion against the state, a day after the military expressed openness to the talks under the initiative. Gen. Dagalo “wants to rule Sudan, seize its resources and magnify his wealth,” Gen. Burhan said in an interview with U.S.-funded Alhurra TV, denying that he wants power for himself.
Both Gen. Burhan and Gen. Dagalo have been involved in crushing pro-democracy activists and together they pushed out civilians from an interim government in a coup in 2021. The former allies fell out in recent months in disputes over an internationally-brokered deal meant to pave the way back to a civilian government, including over the issue of incorporating the RSF into the military.
The rivals’ battles in the streets with artillery barrages, air strikes and gunfire have wreaked misery on millions of Sudanese caught between them. Many have left Khartoum to the northern borders with Egypt, or to the city of Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
Around 40,000 South Sudanese, Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees who had been living in the capital have fled Khartoum since fighting erupted, the UN’s refugee agency said Friday. Many are now sheltering in refugee camps in White Nile, al-Qadarif and Kassala provinces, said Fathi Kasina, a UNHCR spokesman. Sudan hosts more than 1.3 million refugees, including over 800,000 from South Sudan, according to UN figures.
Those who remain in Khartoum have been living in rapidly deteriorating conditions, mostly trapped inside their homes for days. Food, water and other services have become scarce, and electricity is cut off across much of Khartoum and other cities. Fighters roam the streets in the capital and other cities, looting and destroying homes, shops, businesses and open-air markets.
At least 512 people, including civilians and combatants, have been killed since April 15, with another 4,200 wounded, according to the Sudanese Health Ministry. The Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate, which tracks civilian casualties, has recorded at least 387 civilians killed and 1,928 wounded.
Dr. Salah Tour, of the Doctors’ Syndicate in West Darfur province, said at least 113 civilians were killed on Thursday alone in the city of Genena, where fierce clashes among tribal militias have raged despite the ceasefire. A total of more than 190 civilians have been killed there this week and most of them have not yet been added to the nationwide tallies of the dead.
The health care system is near collapse with dozens of hospitals out of service. Multiple aid agencies have had to suspend operations and evacuate employees.
The French military evacuated dozens of employees with the UN and other international aid agencies Thursday night from al-Fasher, a city in Sudan’s western Darfur region, to Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, according to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
The evacuation came a day after armed fighters rampaged through the city, battling each other, killing dozens and looting shops and homes. UN envoy Volker Perthes remained in Sudan along with a small team.
As buses were picking up people in al-Seteen street in Khartoum on April 24, citizens expressed fear that conditions would become worse now that city was becoming a ghost town.