An airstrike in Sudan’s capital Khartoum on Saturday killed at least 17 people, including five children, health officials said, as fighting continued between rival generals seeking to control the country.
The attack was one of the deadliest of the clashes in urban areas of Khartoum and elsewhere in Sudan between the military and a powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces.
There was no immediate comment Saturday from either side of the conflict on the strike, and it was not clear whether the attack was by warplanes or a drone. The military’s aircraft have repeatedly targeted RSF troops and the RSF has reportedly used drones and anti-aircraft weapons against the military.
The fighting broke out in mid-April, capping months of increasing tensions between the leaders of the military and the RSF. The clashes have killed more than 3,000 people and wounded over 6,000 others, said Health Minister Haitham Mohammed Ibrahim in an interview late Saturday with the Saudi-owned television station, Al-Hadath.
Saturday’s strike hit the Yormouk neighborhood in southern Khartoum, where clashes have centered in recent weeks, according to Sudan’s Ministry of Health. The area houses a military facility controlled by the army. At least 25 houses were destroyed, the ministry wrote in a Facebook post.
The dead included five children and an unknown number of women and elderly people, and some wounded people were hospitalized, the ministry said.
A local group that calls itself The Emergency Room and helps organize humanitarian aid in the area, said at least 11 people were wounded in the strike. It posted images it said were of houses damaged in the attack and people searching through rubble. Other images claimed to show a wounded girl and man.
The United States and Saudi Arabia announced late Saturday that the warring sides agreed on a 72-hour cease-fire across the African country. The new cease-fire would take effect Sunday morning Khartoum time, according to a joint U.S.-Saudi statement.
The statement said both the military and the RSF agreed to stop fighting and “refrain from seeking military advantage during the ceasefire.”
The U.S. and Saudi Arabia urged the warring sides to fully implement the cease-fire, which comes ahead a pledging conference to fund the increasing humanitarian needs in the African country.
For weeks, Saudi Arabia and the United States have been mediating between the warring parties. Multiple cease-fire agreements failed to stop the raging fighting across Sudan.
The conflict has plunged the African country into chaos and turned Khartoum and other urban areas into battlefields. The paramilitary force has occupied people’s houses and other civilian properties since the onset of the conflict, according to residents and activists.
More than 2.2 million people have fled their homes to safer areas inside Sudan or crossed into neighboring countries, according to U.N. figures.
Activists and residents have reported widespread looting in the capital. Diplomatic missions, including residences belong to the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, have been stormed and looted, allegedly by armed men wearing RSF uniforms. Almost all diplomatic missions in Sudan were evacuated in the first weeks of the war.
“Looting was fairly extensive at some of the residences,” the U.S. Department of State told The Associated Press. “The damage was discovered during routine checks of the residences. There is some damage to the structures and personal property.”
Sexual violence, including the rape of women and girls, has been reported in Khartoum and the western Darfur region, which have seen some of the worst fighting in the conflict. Almost all reported cases of sexual attacks were blamed on the RSF, which hasn’t responded to repeated requests for comment.
The Darfur city of Genena has experienced some of the worst battles, with tens of thousands of its residents fleeing to neighboring Chad. The RSF and allied Arab militias have repeatedly attacked the city, especially areas of the non-Arab Masalit community, since late April, according to residents and activists.
The attacks intensified earlier this month. Volker Perthes, the U.N envoy in Sudan, said last week that the fighting in Genena has taken on “an ethnic dimension,” with Arab militias and armed men in RSF uniforms showing “an emerging pattern of large-scale targeted attacks against civilians based on their ethnic identities.”
On Wednesday, West Darfur Gov. Khamis Abdalla Abkar, who hails from the Masalit, was abducted and killed hours after he accused the RSF and allied Arab militias in a televised interview of attacking Genena. His slaying was blamed on the RSF, a charge the paramilitary force denied.
Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for bringing those responsible for Abkar’s slaying to justice, “including those who bear command responsibility.”
“Alongside liability of the direct perpetrator, Gov. Abkar was in the RSF’s custody, and it was the RSF’s responsibility to keep him safe,” Shamdasani told a news briefing in Geneva on Friday.
Abkar was the second high-profile official killed in Genena within a few days. The older brother of the traditional chief of the Masalit, Tariq Abdelrahman Bahreldin, was also killed, Shamdasani said.
Martin Griffiths, the U.N.’s top humanitarian official, decried the fighting in Darfur on Thursday, especially in Genena where trapped residents “are living a nightmare.”
“Babies dying in hospitals where they were being treated; children and mothers suffering from severe malnutrition; camps for displaced persons burned to the ground; girls raped; schools closed; and families eating leaves to survive,” he said.
Griffiths urged the international community to intervene to avert another cycle of violence such as the one Darfur experienced in the early 2000s when it was the scene of genocidal war. Ethnic Africans rebelled, accusing the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum of discrimination. Former dictator Omar al-Bashir’s government was accused of retaliating by arming local nomadic Arab tribes, known as Janjaweed, who targeted civilians. The Janjaweed later evolved into the RSF.
“Darfur is rapidly spiraling into a humanitarian calamity. The world cannot allow this to happen. Not again,” Griffiths said.