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Sudan’s Eid holiday sees continued clashes, resulting in over 400 deaths

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The forces of two rival generals fought fierce street battles in residential neighborhoods of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, at the start of Eid al-Fitr, on Friday, as the death toll rose to more than 400, after the army deployed. on foot for the first time in its nearly week-long fight with a paramilitary force.

Witnesses said soldiers and gunmen from the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces fired at each other in the north, west, and center of the city, including during the early-morning Eid prayer call.

The ongoing fighting has killed hundreds and pushed Africa’s third-largest country – where about a quarter of its population already depends on food aid – into a humanitarian catastrophe.

An international campaign for a temporary truce to allow civilians to reach safety and visit their families during the three-day holiday has so far failed. Foreign countries including the United States, Japan, South Korea, Germany and Spain have been unable to evacuate their citizens.

Instead of a ceasefire, the army has entered a new phase, fighting the Rapid Support Forces on the ground, having largely stuck with airstrikes across the capital, with violent clashes in central Khartoum, since the outbreak of the power struggle last weekend.

The army said in a statement that it had begun “the gradual cleansing of hotbeds of rebel groups around the capital.”

Mohamed Saber Turabi, 27, a resident of Khartoum, wanted to visit his parents 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the city on the occasion of Eid.

“I am not lucky. Every time I try to leave the house there are clashes. There was shelling last night and now there is a presence of army forces on the ground,” he said.

The army chief, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, said on Thursday that he saw “no other option but a military solution”.

Heavy weapons hit Khartoum and its sister cities in the Nile, together one of the largest metropolitan areas in Africa.

A video clip released by the army on Friday showed the army soldiers being greeted waving semi-automatic weapons amidst cheers. Reuters verified the location of the video in the north of the city but was able to verify the time it was filmed.

Gunshots rang out non-stop and black smoke billowed over the rooftops until well into the afternoon.

The World Health Organization said at least 413 people have been killed and thousands wounded in the conflict, with hospitals attacked and up to 20,000 fleeing to neighboring Chad.

The United Nations World Food Program suspended operations in Sudan, one of the world’s largest food aid missions, on Saturday after three of its staff were killed.

Witnesses said thousands of people braved the fighting to flee Khartoum on Friday, heading south to Gezira state or north to River Nile state, with some seeking to head to Egypt.

Sudan borders seven countries and is sandwiched between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and the restive Sahel region of Africa. Hostilities threaten to inflame regional tensions.

The violence erupted over a dispute over an internationally backed plan to form a new civilian government, four years after the fall of autocrat Omar al-Bashir in mass protests, and two years after a military coup.

Both sides accuse the other of thwarting the transition.

Darfur victims

The fighting on Friday undermined efforts by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to win a truce, despite a flurry of phone calls to Burhan from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the foreign secretaries of the United States, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other world leaders on Thursday.

The Rapid Support Forces expressed their willingness to allow the fighting to subside, and condemned the army for what it described as new attacks.

Outside the capital, the two sides are fighting in the western region of Darfur, where a partial peace deal was signed in 2020 in a protracted conflict that has led to international accusations of war crimes against Bashir.

In El Fasher, North Darfur, the maternity hospital that had been repurposed to treat fighting victims was overwhelmed and supplies were quickly running out, said Cyrus Bay, coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, which supports the facility. All other hospitals in the city have been closed.

He added that most of the 279 injured patients admitted to the hospital since Saturday were civilians hit by stray bullets, many of them children, and 44 died.

Another group of doctors said at least 26 people were killed and 33 wounded in El Obeid, also west of Khartoum, on Thursday. Witnesses described clashes and widespread looting.

Guterres told reporters after meeting the heads of the African Union, the Arab League and other organizations on Thursday that trapped civilians should be allowed access to medical treatment, food and other supplies.

Al-Burhan told Al-Jazeera that he would support a truce on the condition that it allow citizens to move freely, which he said the RSF prevented.

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