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Desperate attempt at peace in Sudan as fighting persists


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Two of Sudan’s top generals agreed to extend the shaky truce, but violence that has killed hundreds continued on Thursday.

Armed fighters overran a city in Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region on Thursday, fighting each other and looting shops and homes, residents said.

The chaos in the Darfur city of Geneina signaled how rival generals fighting for control of the capital, Khartoum, was escalating into violence in other parts of Sudan.

Both sides agreed to extend the truce for 72 hours late Thursday. The agreement, which was brokered by the United States and Saudi Arabia, did not stop the fighting but created enough calm for tens of thousands of Sudanese to flee to safer areas and for foreign countries to evacuate hundreds of their citizens by land, air and sea. .

The ceasefire has reduced fighting in Khartoum and the neighboring city of Omdurman for the first time since the army and rival paramilitary forces began clashing on April 15, turning residential neighborhoods into battlefields.

The army, led by General Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, commanded by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, said late Thursday that they had accepted the extension of the truce.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has spoken frequently with both generals, had earlier acknowledged the limits of the armistice while saying he was determined to extend it.

“We had a 72-hour ceasefire, which like most ceasefires is imperfect but nonetheless reduced the violence,” he said.

Meanwhile, the White House encouraged Americans to take advantage of any opportunity to leave Sudan within the next 24 to 48 hours, even as Washington faced criticism for not stepping up the mass evacuations of its citizens already carried out by other countries.

“We are constantly working to create options for US citizens to leave Sudan,” said press secretary Karen Jean-Pierre, warning that “the situation could deteriorate at any moment.”

A US defense official said the USS Truxton, a US Navy destroyer, is in the Red Sea off the coast of Sudan, and the fast-track transport ship USNS Brunswick is expected to arrive on the coast later on Thursday. The USS Louis B Puller, an expedition ship, is located south in the Red Sea, heading north.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing military operations, said none of the ships had yet been ordered to take on citizens or other personnel.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly urged UK nationals wishing to leave to head to an airport north of Khartoum for evacuation flights. He warned that “the situation may deteriorate in the coming days.” Britain said it had evacuated 897 people on eight flights to Cyprus as operations continued.

Fighting continued in some parts of the capital despite the truce, and in the western region of Darfur, residents said the violence had escalated to its worst yet.

Darfur has been a battleground between the army and the RSF since the conflict began nearly two weeks ago. The fighting in Geneina is now drawing in tribal militias, residents said, tapping into ancient hatreds between the two main communities in the area – one identifying as Arab and the other East or Central African.

In the early 2000s, African tribes in Darfur, who had long complained of discrimination, rebelled against the Khartoum government, which responded with a military campaign that the International Criminal Court later said amounted to genocide. State-backed Arab militias known as the Janjaweed have been accused of widespread killings, rape and other atrocities. The Janjaweed later evolved into the Rapid Support Forces.

Early Thursday, fighters in Rapid Support Forces uniforms attacked several neighborhoods in Geneina, driving many families out of their homes. Violence escalated as tribal fighters joined the fight in Geneina, a city of about half a million people near the border with Chad.

“The attacks are coming from all directions. Everyone is fleeing,” said Amani, a resident of Geneina, who asked that her last name be withheld for her safety.

It was often unclear who was fighting whom, with a mixture of the RSF and tribal militias—some RSF allies and some opponents—all running rampant. Said Dr. Salah Tour, a member of the Board of Directors of the Doctors Syndicate in West Darfur state, of which Jenina is considered the capital.

The Syndicate estimated dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries. Almost all medical facilities in Genena, including the main hospital, have been out of service for several days, and the only functioning hospital is inaccessible due to fighting.

The syndicate said “criminal gangs” looted the main hospital, stole cars and equipment and destroyed the hospital’s blood bank.

Several residents said that fighters, some on motorcycles, roamed the streets, destroying and looting offices, shops, and homes.

“It’s a scorched earth war,” said Adam Haroun, a political activist in West Darfur, speaking on the phone, the sounds of gunfire sometimes drowning out his voice.

Haroun and other residents said the city’s main outdoor market was completely destroyed. Government offices and compounds of aid agencies were repeatedly trashed and burned, including United Nations buildings and the headquarters of the Sudanese Red Crescent.

Two main camps for the displaced have been burned down and their residents – mostly women and children from African tribes – dispersed, said Abdul Shafei Abdullah, a senior member of a local group helping to manage the camps.

Abdallah said there have been sporadic clashes elsewhere in Darfur, particularly in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state, where thousands have fled their homes.

At least 512 people, including civilians and combatants, have been killed in Sudan since April 15, and 4,200 others have been injured, according to the Sudanese Ministry of Health. The Medical Association, which tracks civilian casualties, recorded at least 295 dead and 1,790 wounded.

Meanwhile, residents in Khartoum reported gunfire and explosions in some parts of the capital on Thursday. They said that army warplanes bombed positions of the Rapid Support Forces in the upscale Al-Kafouri neighborhood. The Rapid Support Forces confirmed the bombing of their camp in the neighborhood.

Many struggle to get food and water, and electricity is cut off in most parts of Khartoum and other cities. Multiple aid agencies have had to suspend operations. Fearing the fighting will escalate again, Sudanese and foreigners rush to flee.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that 14,000 Sudanese have fled to Egypt. Long bus lines continue to crop up at the border, and tens of thousands have gone to other neighboring countries or to the Red Sea city of Port Sudan, trying to board ferries bound for Saudi Arabia.

Hassan Ali, a Dutch national who arrived in Larnaca, Cyprus, on an evacuation flight, told the Associated Press that he had spent days trapped in his home in Khartoum. Most areas do not have water and electricity is only intermittent.

He said, “Most of the time (we’re) locked in the house unless you go for something really emergency, food, medicine. That’s it.” Many took refuge in the hospitals, though “most hospitals were also attacked, by both sides.”

Of those leaving, he said: “People, they left everything behind. There is no money, there is no money. You just take your bag.”

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