Deadly clashes intensify in El Fasher, Darfur, amid international calls for end to Sudan civil war

Written by on May 16, 2024

Newly arrived refugees from Darfur in Sudan sit on a vehicle before being taken to a new camp on April 24, 2024 in Adre, Chad. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

(LONDON) — Fighting between the Sudanese Army (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group and allied militias has intensified in El Fasher, the capital of Sudan’s North Darfur state.

In a dramatic escalation of violence, fighting has broken out in the north and east of El Fasher — also commonly known as Al Fashir — with the sound of airstrikes, artillery fire and heavy weapons ringing from mid-morning on Friday into the weekend.

At least 27 people have been killed in the renewed fighting and at least 130 people injured, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

An estimated 850 people across various locations in El Fasher have also been displaced by the most recent clashes, with many people fleeing southward, the U.N. said in an alert.

The violence comes as the U.S. warned of a looming offensive on El Fasher — one of the only remaining cities in the Sudanese Army’s control — by the RSF Paramilitary group and allied militias.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said he is “gravely concerned” by the escalating violence in El Fasher, expressing alarm at the “use of heavy weapons in densely populated areas” that have resulted in dozens of civilian casualties and “significant” displacement and destruction of infrastructure.

Around 800,000 civilians are believed to be trapped in the besieged city — which was a key humanitarian hub and safe refuge to hundreds of thousands already displaced by the conflict. As militants encircle the city, U.N. Relief Chief Martin Griffiths warned the situation is at a “tipping point”: “Countless lives are at stake.”

An airstrike by the SAF over the weekend near the Babiker Nahar Paediatric Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit caused the hospital’s roof to collapse, killing three people, including two children, according to a statement from Médecins Sans Frontières, which is known as Doctors Without Borders or MSF.

The incident came after 160 wounded people recently arrived at the hospital, 25 of whom were in terminal condition upon arrival, and have since died.

“This must not happen again,” said MSF in a statement. “We remind the warring parties with the utmost gravity that hospitals and health facilities must not be targeted or become collateral damage in a conflict.”

Fighting between the SAF, RSF and allied militias plunged Sudan into chaos in April 15, 2023, following weeks of tensions linked to a planned transition to civilian rule. SAF’s Commander General Abdel-Fattah Burhan and Head of RSF General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo — known as Hemedti — engaged in a vicious power struggle.

The conflict has precipitated “one of the worst humanitarian nightmares in recent history,” with a new report finding at least 9.1 million people have been displaced, the most ever recorded in a single country since the IMDC began taking records in 2008.

At least 14,000 people have been killed according to the U.N.

Local groups, however, warned the true toll is likely much higher.

United States Special Envoy for Sudan Tom Perriello this week begun a regional tour, departing Washington for Uganda, Kenya, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Perriello is due to meet with “key regional partners” and Sudanese civilians as diplomatic efforts to end the conflict in Sudan continue, the State Department has announced.

“The RSF must lift its siege of the city. The SAF must protect critical infrastructure,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Greenfield said. “There will be direct and immediate consequences for those responsible for an offensive on El Fasher.”

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