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Air strikes hit outer areas of the Sudanese capital Khartoum overnight and on Saturday morning, as fighting that has trapped civilians in a humanitarian crisis and displaced more than a million entered its sixth week.
The fighting between Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has led to a collapse in law and order that the two sides blame the other for. Stocks of food, cash and essentials are rapidly dwindling, and mass looting has hit banks, embassies, factories and aid warehouses.
Air strikes were reported by eyewitnesses in southern Omdurman and northern Bahri, the two cities that lie across the Nile from Khartoum, forming Sudan’s “triple capital”. Some of the strikes took place near the state broadcaster in Omdurman, the eyewitnesses said.
“We faced heavy artillery fire early this morning, the whole house was shaking,” Sanaa Hassan, a 33-year-old living in the al-Salha neighbourhood of Omdurman, told Reuters by phone.
“It was terrifying, everyone was lying under their beds. What’s happening is a nightmare,” she said.
The RSF is embedded in residential districts, drawing almost continual air strikes by the regular armed forces.
Eyewitnesses in Khartoum said that the situation was relatively calm, although sporadic gunshots could be heard.
The conflict, which began on April 15, has displaced almost 1.1 million people internally and into neighbouring countries. Some 705 people have been killed and at least 5,287 injured, according to the World Health Organization.
Saudi- and U.S-sponsored talks in the Saudi city of Jeddah have not been fruitful, and the two warring sides have accused each other of violating multiple ceasefire agreements.
In recent days ground fighting has flared once again in the Darfur region, in the cities of Nyala and Zalenjei.
Both sides blamed each other in statements late on Friday for sparking the fighting in Nyala, one of the country’s largest cities, which had for weeks been relatively calm due to a locally brokered truce.
A local activist told Reuters there were sporadic gun clashes near the city’s main market close to army headquarters on Saturday morning. Almost 30 people have died in the two previous days of fighting, according to activists.
Churches among looted buildings
The war broke out in Khartoum after disputes over plans for the RSF to be integrated into the army and over the future chain of command under an internationally backed deal to shift Sudan towards democracy following decades of conflict-ridden autocracy.
On Friday, army leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan removed RSF chief Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo as his deputy on the ruling council they led. He replaced him with former rebel leader Malik Agar.
In a statement on Saturday, Agar said he had accepted the position to help secure peace and support for the upcoming agricultural season, whose failure would spell widespread hunger.
He said his message to the army was, “There is no alternative to peace but peace, and no way to peace other than dialogue.”
“My message to the RSF is that there is no way for stability except with one united army,” he added.
On Saturday, the U.S. State Department said Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Burhan about ongoing talks in Saudi Arabia aimed at reaching a ceasefire. “In this step-by-step process, the Secretary urged flexibility and leadership,” spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced late on Friday more than $100 million in aid to Sudan
and countries receiving fleeing Sudanese, including much-needed food and medical assistance.
“It’s hard to convey the extent of the suffering occurring right now in Sudan,” said agency head Samantha Power.
Among the many looted buildings in the capital are several churches, including the Virgin Mary church in downtown Khartoum, according to a church official. Armed men gave the bishop a week to vacate the church after which they looted it and set it up as their base, he said.
Church leaders have said they are not sure if attacks are targeted or part of the overall chaos gripping Khartoum.
In a statement, Qatar said that its embassy was the latest in a string of looted embassies.