As explosions and gunfire thundered outside, Sudanese huddled in their homes for a third day Monday in the capital Khartoum and other cities, while the army and a powerful rival force battled in the streets for control of the country.
At least 97 civilians have been killed in the crossfire of gunbattles in the streets, airstrikes and bombardment. Shelling has hammered hospitals and several humanitarian aid groups have suspended vital operations that growing numbers of Sudanese rely on.
The sudden explosion of violence over the weekend between the nation’s two top generals, each backed by thousands of well-armed fighters, trapped millions of people in the capital and its adjoining city Omdurman in their homes — or wherever they could find shelter. For many, supplies were running out, and some reported looting.
“Gunfire and shelling are everywhere,” Awadeya Mahmoud Koko, head of a union for thousands of tea vendors and other food workers, said from her home in a southern district of Khartoum.
She said a shell stuck a neighbor’s house Sunday, killing at least three people. “We couldn’t take them to a hospital or bury them.”
In central Khartoum, sustained gunfire erupted and white smoke rose near the main military headquarters, a major battle front. Nearby, at least 88 students and staffers have been trapped in the engineering college library at Khartoum University since the start of fighting, one of the students said in a video posted online Monday. One student was killed by clashes outside and another heavily wounded, he said. The group does not have food or water, he said, showing a room full of people sleeping on the floor.
Even in a country with a long history of civil strife, the scenes of fighting with tanks, machine-guns, artillery and warplanes in the densely populated capital were unprecedented. The fighting comes just days before Sudanese were to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting.
The fighting threatens to throw Sudan into a wider civil conflict at a time when Sudanese were trying to revive their drive for a democratic, civilian government after decades of military rule. The clashes are part of a power struggle between Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the commander of the armed forces, and Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, the head of the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group. The two generals are former allies who jointly orchestrated an October 2021 military coup that derailed Sudan’s transition to democracy.
Both men have dug in, saying they would not negotiate a truce, instead engaging in verbal attacks and demanding the other’s surrender.
Dagalo, whose forces grew out of the notorious Janjaweed militias in Sudan’s Darfur region, portrayed himself in a statement on Twitter on Monday as a defender of democracy and branded Burhan as the aggressor and a “radical Islamist.”
Pro-democracy activists have noted that both generals have a long history of human rights abuses. At the same time, both men have powerful foreign backers, making them potentially susceptible to mounting diplomatic pressure to end the fighting.
Since fighting erupted Saturday, 97 civilians have been killed and hundreds have been wounded, said the Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate, a pro-democracy group monitoring casualties.
There has been no official word on the number of fighters killed.
On Sunday, the warring sides agreed to a three-hour pause in fighting to allow civilians to stock up on necessities. Compliance was spotty, and there were reports of casualties during the pause.
The military on Monday claimed to have secured the main television building on the Nile River in Omdurman, after days of fighting with RSF fighters trying to seize the building. State-run Sudan TV resumed broadcasting, airing footage of residents celebrating with army troops in the streets.
Earlier in the day, footage posted online purported to show RSF barracks in Omdurman. The bodies of dozens of men in camouflage uniforms were seen sprawled on beds and the floor of a medical ward and in a sandy outdoor area.
The authenticity of the videos could not be confirmed independently, but they surfaced after the military said it has targeted RSF bases with airstrikes. Mohmed al-Mokhtar al-Nour, an RSF adviser, told the Al Jazeera satellite network Sunday that RSF forces have withdrawn from the camp.
The Doctors’ Syndicate said Monday that health care facilities in Khartoum and elsewhere across the country have sustained significant damage. At least two major hospitals in the capital have shut down after being hit by shelling, it said.
The fight for control between the military and RSF spread to most major centers in the country, including in the western Darfur region and parts of the north and the east, by the borders with Egypt and Ethiopia.
The battles created more hardships for Sudan, where about 16 million people, or one-third of the population, depend on humanitarian assistance.
Over the weekend, the World Food Program suspended operations in Sudan after three employees were killed in Darfur. On Monday, the International Rescue Committee also said it was halting its work because of the conflict, with the exception of a refugee camp in the southeast.
Top diplomats urged the sides to stop fighting, including the U.S. secretary of state, the U.N. secretary-general, the EU foreign policy chief, the head of the Arab League and the head of the African Union Commission. The U.N. Security Council was to discuss the developments in Sudan later on Monday.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken renewed his call for a truce and a return to negotiations during a meeting of the Group of Seven wealthy nations in Japan on Monday.
“People in Sudan want the military back in the barracks,” he said. “They want democracy. They want the civilian-led government, Sudan needs to return to that path.”
In recent months, negotiations had been under way to get back on a path to democracy. Under international pressure, Burhan and Dagalo agreed to a framework agreement with political parties and pro-democracy groups.
However, the deal was vague on key points of dispute, including how the RSF would be integrated into the armed force and who would have final control. The signing of the deal was put off repeatedly as tensions rose between Burhan and Dagalo.
The fighting marks a deadly setback for Sudan, a resource-rich nation strategically located at the crossroads of Africa and the Arab world. Only four years ago, Sudan inspired hope after a popular uprising helped depose long-time autocratic leader Omar al-Bashir.