fighting intensifies in khartoum as sudan cease fires fail

With two generals vying for power, residents in the Sudanese capital said the violence had destroyed hospitals, airfields and homes, and left civilians caught in the crossfire.

Fighting in Sudan intensified on Thursday morning as a bombardment by warplanes in the center of the capital, Khartoum, amounted to one of the most fearsome assaults yet in the violent days-long clashes.

With two generals vying for power over the country, residents in Khartoum said that the fighting had destroyed hospitals, airfields and homes, and left civilians caught in the crossfire.

Despite repeated international calls for a cease-fire, proposed pauses in the fighting have not held. A shaky truce that allowed some residents to flee from parts of Khartoum on Wednesday night has since collapsed.

The clashes, between the Sudanese Army and a paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces, have upended a promise by the factions’ leaders for the northeastern African country to transition to a civilian-led democracy. And concerns are mounting that the chaos could draw nearby nations — including Egypt, which has troops in Sudan; Chad; Ethiopia; and Libya — into the conflict.

Here’s what we know:

It remained unclear on Thursday who, if anyone, was in control of Sudan, Africa’s third-largest country. The death toll from the fighting has risen to nearly 300, with more than 3,000 others wounded, according to the World Health Organization.

Much of the fighting has occurred in and around Khartoum, including in residential areas and other typically bustling parts of the city. Many residents have been hunkering down in their homes amid the unpredictable bombardments, gun battles and sniper fire that have hit civilian infrastructure such as hospitals.

“It’s a horrendous bombardment,” Endre Stiansen, Norway’s ambassador to Sudan, said in an interview on Thursday, describing attacks on Khartoum’s international airport that repeatedly shook the walls of his nearby residence. “For the first time, I got scared. This is madness.”

Much of the fighting has occurred in and around Khartoum, including in residential areas and other typically bustling parts of the city.Marwan Ali/Associated Press

Hopes for even a brief truce to allow humanitarian access have repeatedly emerged and sputtered. But on Wednesday a patchy and brief cease-fire held long enough to allow some residents who had been hiding in their homes without food, water or electricity to flee.

The chaos has also spiraled out to other parts of the country, including the western region of Darfur, an area in which genocidal attacks killed at least 300,000 people and displaced millions of others early this century. In the city of El Fasher this week, the charity Doctors Without Borders said that it had treated 279 wounded civilians, 44 of whom died from their injuries. In another city, Nyala, looters emptied warehouses filled with medical supplies.

Although Sudan’s military has previously waged bloody conflicts in the south, east and west of the country, and has been plagued by rebellions in the past few days, the latest violence is between two generals who combined forces to seize power of the country in 2021.

Two years earlier, the generals had turned on President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Sudan’s authoritarian leader, who lost power in a revolution in which mass protests demanded that the country become a democracy. In a power-sharing deal, the military leaders agreed to help Sudan transition to a democratic government. But instead, they instigated a coup that effectively made them Sudan’s top two leaders.

In recent months, relations between the two men publicly broke down, with each quietly preparing for combat despite efforts by American, British and other foreign mediators to persuade them to hand over power to a civilian government.

On one side is the Sudanese Army under Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, a military commander and de facto leader of Sudan. Once a close supporter of Mr. al-Bashir, General al-Burhan turned on him in the 2019 uprising that led to the autocrat’s ouster.

The general’s military experience has included serving as inspector general of the armed forces, and leading a notoriously brutal counterinsurgency operations against rebels in the western Darfur region in the 2000s.

Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, left, and Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan in 2019.Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

On the other side is Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, the leader of the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group, who had acted as Sudan’s deputy leader since the 2021 coup.

A former camel trader from Darfur, General Hamdan — also known as Hemeti — found prominence as the commander of the Janjaweed militia, a feared group that rode through villages in Darfur and committed some of that conflict’s worst atrocities against civilians.

Experts have estimated that the R.S.F. has 70,000 to 150,000 fighters, compared with an estimated 100,000 in the Sudanese Army.

The violence is deepening a humanitarian crisis in Sudan, where millions of people are facing shortages of food, water, medicine and electricity in besieged cities across the country. Khartoum already had problems with crumbling infrastructure, and conditions in the city have swiftly deteriorated since the clashes began.

Many in the city’s outer neighborhoods have escaped to safer areas in the south or north or the country, toward Port Sudan or Egypt, but the threat of gunshots, sniper fire and airstrikes at any moment has left others stranded in the center of the city.

Reports have also emerged of gunmen attacking civilians, including a European ambassador, in their homes, and several countries have been trying to organize evacuations for their citizens. But Khartoum’s international airport has been closed because of fighting nearby.

Children have been killed in the attacks, and thousands of families have been displaced, the United Nations said, adding that breaks in the power supply risked ruining medicines like vaccines and insulin.

Aid groups have reported armed raids on homes and on warehouses that store medical supplies. The street violence has left medical teams unable to deliver aid to the few hospitals still open, and conditions in the hospitals are rapidly deteriorating, according to the Central Committee for Sudanese Doctors.

The conflict has attracted immediate attention from global leaders, given that Sudan is strategically located on the Red Sea, just south of Egypt, and that it neighbors a cluster of countries that have grappled with political upheaval.

The United States, which lifted Sudan’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism in 2020, has joined appeals to the clashing military factions to cease fighting. But as successive proposed cease-fires have collapsed, concerns have mounted that the conflict could embroil the region.

On Thursday, the Sudanese news media reported that its country’s armed forces had stopped an attack on their positions from Ethiopian forces in al-Fashaga, a farmland border region that has been disputed for over a century. That had echoes of a similar offensive by Sudanese forces in the region in late 2020 as Ethiopia was focused on battling rebels in Tigray.

Egypt, which has troops stationed in neighboring Sudan, has denied siding with the Sudanese Army, claiming its military presence was only for training purposes. A group of Egyptian soldiers were captured over the weekend at an air base about 200 miles north of Khartoum by R.S.F. fighters who claimed that the troops were supporting the Sudanese Army. Those soldiers were later taken to the capital.

Egyptian news media reported on Thursday that all of its troops in Sudan had either returned home or were being held in the country’s embassy in Khartoum.

Intensive international efforts are underway to stop the fighting, including pressure from African, Western and Arab countries, said Mr. Stiansen, the Norwegian ambassador. “The international community needs to stand together and demand that they stop the fighting,” he said. “We need to tell them that enough is enough.”

Declan Walsh and Elian Peltier contributed reporting.

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