A new attempt at a ceasefire in fierce fighting between Sudanese troops and paramilitary forces in Khartoum failed on Wednesday, leaving people fearful about dwindling food supplies and a breakdown in medical services.
The 24-hour ceasefire – lobbied for by countries trying to evacuate their citizens after days of conflict – was supposed to come into effect at 6 p.m. local time (1600 GMT). However, two eyewitnesses in separate areas of the capital told Reuters that fighting had continued.
Earlier in the day, continuous bombardments could be heard in central Khartoum around the compound housing the army HQ – where Sudan’s military ruler, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan had said he was based earlier in the week. It was not clear if he was still there.
“The armed forces are responding to a new attack in the vicinity of the General Command,” an army statement said.
There was another heavy exchange of gunfire in the Jabra neighbourhood of west Khartoum, where homes belonging to paramilitary leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, widely known as Hemedti, and his family are located, a Reuters reporter said.
Hemedti’s location has not been revealed since fighting began on Saturday.
Blasts also rang out from the main airport, shut down after the conflict burst out of a power struggle between Burhan and Hemedti over a plan to integrate Hemedti’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) into the regular military.
Thick smoke billowed into the sky and the streets of the capital, one of Africa’s largest cities with some 5.5 million people, were largely empty.
Huddled in their homes, residents struggled with power cuts and worried how long food supplies would last.
“Today we were starting to run out of some essentials,” said architect Hadeel Mohamed, concerned for the safety of her brother who had gone to look for food.
Gunfire rattled in the south of the city, a Reuters witness said, while the army appeared to retake a key military airport in Sudan’s north, images on TV network al Arabiya showed.
At least 270 people have died and 2,600 have been injured, Sudan’s health ministry estimates. Nine hostpitals have been hit by artillery and 16 had to be evacuated, the Sudanese Doctors’ Union said, with none operating fully inside the capital.
“The hospitals are completely collapsed, devoid of all necessities. It’s past catastrophic…,” said Sudan’s Red Crescent spokesperson Osama Othman.
Burhan heads a ruling council installed after the 2021 military coup and the 2019 ouster of veteran autocrat Omar al-Bashir, while Hemedti, who analysts say may command more than 100,000 fighters, was his deputy on the council.
Their conflict has dashed hopes for progress towards democracy in Sudan, risks drawing in its neighbours and could play into regional competition between Russia and the United States. Sudan sits strategically between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Africa’s volatile Sahel region.
Chad’s armed forces disarmed 320 Sudanese soldiers who had entered its territory on Monday, its defence minister said, adding that Chad did not want to be involved in the conflict.
“Today, thousands of refugees are crossing our border to seek protection. We have no choice but to welcome and protect them,” Defence Minister Daoud Yaya Brahim said. Other people from Khartoum headed to the south of Sudan, where fighting has not been reported.
The army controls access to Khartoum and appeared to be trying to cut off supply routes to RSF fighters. Army reinforcements were brought in from near the eastern border with Ethiopia, according to witnesses and residents.
The RSF said the army had used heavy artillery against homes in Jabra, breaching international law. An RSF call centre had been set up to help people in parts of the capital that it controls, it said.
Foreign powers have pressed for a ceasefire to allow for evacuations and the delivery of supplies, but although truces were announced by the two sides on both Tuesday and Wednesday, neither held.
With planes smouldering on the runway of Khartoum’s international airport, evacuations looked difficult for now.
“There’s no way to get out,” Belgian diver Henri Hemmerechts told Reuters from Khartoum. “It’s just horrible and honestly, there’s nothing we can do at this point.”
The U.S. State Department said there were no plans for a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation. Turkey has also said it could not currently evacuate.
Germany halted a mission on Wednesday to fly out about 150 citizens on three Luftwaffe A400M transport planes, Der Spiegel magazine reported, citing unnamed sources.
Asked about the report, the German foreign ministry said all options were being assessed.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary said authorities were planning to use a plane from its military Self-Defense Forces to evacuate around 60 Japanese citizens.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will discuss the situation on Thursday with the heads of the African Union, Arab League and other relevant organisations, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
”People in Sudan are running out of food, fuel, and other vital supplies. Many urgently need medical care,” Dujarric said.
Gunmen have targeted hospitals and humanitarian workers, with reports of sexual violence against aid workers, the United Nations said. Most hospitals are out of service and health charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said armed men raided a warehouse of supplies it operates in the west of the country.
Even before the conflict, around a quarter of Sudan’s population was facing acute hunger. The World Food Programme halted one of its largest global aid operations in the country on Saturday after three of its workers were killed.