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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Fighting in Sudan traps families as generals fail to keep a cease-fire

A damaged home in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, on Monday. Four days of fighting have prevented many residents from escaping the city or gathering supplies.

By Abdi Latif Dahir and Elian Peltier

Street battles and rocket strikes deepened the chaos across Sudan earlier this week as a cease-fire between the country’s two warring generals fizzled, paralyzing the capital and trapping civilians in their homes for fear of the crossfire.

Parents and children, doctors and students, officials and high-profile diplomats all have come under attack since the fighting broke out over the weekend. So did a diplomatic convoy carrying American citizens, and a senior EU official was wounded by gunfire.

At least 185 people have been killed and more than 1,800 injured in the past four days, United Nations officials said, though the true toll is most likely far higher.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that he had spoken with Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, the leader of the paramilitary group implicated in the attack on the U.S. convoy. Hamdan then called for a 24-hour cease-fire to allow civilians to evacuate or obtain desperately needed supplies.

But with conflicting signals about whether the rival Sudanese army had agreed to take part, residents of the capital, Khartoum, a city of 5 million, were too terrified to step outside their doors.

“We take shelter in the middle room of the house, which does not have windows, and we put the mattress up to take shelter in case we’re hit by airstrikes,” said one Khartoum resident named Rana, who is a 29-year-old pharmacist and is 5 months pregnant.

Rana, who insisted on being identified only by her first name for fear of reprisals, said that she and her husband had enough water for two days but that they would soon be running out of provisions, along with the medicine she needs daily.

On Monday, when her husband tried to buy supplies, she said, he and a neighbor were assaulted by two armed men wearing the beige uniforms of Hamdan’s fighters, the Rapid Support Forces. The men stole their money and phones, she added.

Until days ago, Hamdan had an alliance with the army chief, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, joining him to seize power in a 2021 coup. But the two men turned on each other, and when international efforts to mediate the dispute and move Sudan to civilian rule failed, their rivalry erupted into violence this weekend.

Hope that the violence would ease was raised by word Tuesday that a cease-fire had been reached, but just after 6 p.m., when the fighting was supposed to stop, several residents reported heavy gunfire, loud blasts and the sound of fighter jets roaring overhead.

Within a few hours, the rival sides were accusing each other of violating the cease-fire.

“I never believed there would be one,” said Raga Makawi, a researcher and editor in Khartoum.

The continued violence underscored just how quickly the security situation has deteriorated. Hospitals have shut down because of bombings and shortages. Residents have been stranded at home for days without electricity or water. Aid workers and foreign officials have come under repeated fire, compounding the sense of unpredictability.

“Some people are almost living normally in some parts of Khartoum,” said Aseel Ibrahim, a freelance graphic designer who fled her home for a relative’s in the suburbs. “Others are living through war.”

Speaking at a news conference in Japan, Blinken said the U.S. diplomatic convoy was clearly identified by American flags and diplomatic license plates when it was traveling through Khartoum on Monday.

The convoy was carrying American officials from their homes in the city to a large American residential compound in central Khartoum, said four diplomatic officials, who asked not to be named because of security concerns.

Then, gunfire hit an armored vehicle in the convoy, but none of its occupants were injured, the officials said.

“All of our people are safe,” Blinken said.

The attack was under investigation, he added, but initial reports indicated that the assailants might have been tied to the Rapid Support Forces.

Adding to the volatility of the conflict, Hamdan’s fighters captured a group of Egyptian troops in Sudan over the weekend, fueling rumors about whether Egypt was backing the Sudanese army.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt, Sudan’s neighbor to the north, denied those allegations Tuesday, in his first public remarks about his country’s military involvement in Sudan since the clashes broke out.

“Our forces were present for training with the brothers in Sudan and not, absolutely not, for supporting any party against another,” he said. Egypt was working to ensure the safety of its captured troops, he added.

In the turmoil, it was unclear who controlled various parts of the capital.

Each day, one side or the other has claimed control of key installations, including airports and the state broadcaster, only to have the claims quickly disputed. The Rapid Support Forces posted a video online Tuesday that appeared to show their fighters outside the presidential palace, but it could not be verified.

Battles have been reported throughout much of Khartoum.

Residents have described fierce fighting near the prison, Kober, in recent days, and inmates there have not received drinking water for three days, said Sara Hashim of the Missing Initiative, a group that tracks missing people in Sudan. Omar al-Bashir, the dictator ousted by protests in 2019, is believed to be held there.

More than 450 students remain stranded at the University of Khartoum, and an unknown number of passengers and workers are trapped at the main international airport, according to Germain Mwehu, the spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross for Sudan.

In parts of the city that appear to be under the control of the Rapid Support Forces, many residents remain deeply afraid about going outside for help. The paramilitary forces have been accused of looting and abuses against civilians in cities across the country.

In a video shared by Rana, the pharmacist, two people dressed like Rapid Support Forces fighters and carrying weapons can be been seen holding her neighbor at gunpoint on their street.

Most of the dozen other families living in her building have also been unable to leave the building because of the fighting. During a call Tuesday, sounds of gunfire and explosions could be heard in the background.

Rana said she was scheduled to fly Saturday to Saudi Arabia, where she is from, to celebrate Eid with her family and then stay for the last months of her pregnancy. But even though the airport is less than 2 miles from her home, she said leaving Sudan had never felt so difficult.

The fighting has left the airport in ruins, and commercial flights are grounded.

“It may take them months to make the airport operational again,” she said. “Where do we go?”

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