Air strikes, combat as one-week Sudan truce officially starts
Witnesses in the Sudanese capital reported clashes and air strikes minutes after a one-week humanitarian ceasefire took effect Monday night, with the smell of smoke still lingering after gunfire and explosions rocked Khartoum throughout the day.
The witnesses reported combat in north Khartoum, and air strikes in the east of the capital shortly after 9:45 pm (1945 GMT) when the truce was to take effect.
A series of previous truce announcements were all violated by the warring generals, but the United States and Saudi Arabia -- which brokered the deal -- had said this one was different because it was "signed by the parties" and will be supported by a "ceasefire monitoring mechanism".
A witness in southern Khartoum had reported an air strike, followed by silence, shortly before the ceasefire was to take effect.
Air strikes and gun fire have usually quietened down overnight during the war which has lasted more than five weeks.
Earlier on Monday, residents of the capital -- anxious for a reprieve to enable them to reach stranded relatives, flee to safety or get access to humanitarian assistance -- said there was little to show fighters were preparing to pause, reporting air strikes and anti-aircraft fire for the 37th consecutive day.
"Fighter jets are bombing our neighbourhood," Khartoum resident Mahmoud Salah el-Din told AFP, in the hours before the truce was to take effect.
Battles began on April 15 between the army, led by Sudan's de facto leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces commanded by Burhan's former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.
According to the seven-page agreement released by the US, warring sides were to use the two days before it took effect Monday night to "inform their respective forces" about it and "instruct them to comply."
But Volker Perthes, the UN's envoy to Sudan, told the United Nations Security Council, that "fighting and troop movements have continued even today, despite a commitment by both sides not to pursue military advantage before the ceasefire takes effect".
While government forces control the skies they have few men on the ground in the centre of Khartoum, where RSF are on the streets.
"We have seen no sign that the Rapid Support Forces are preparing to withdraw from the streets," said Salah el-Din, the Khartoum resident.
Around 1,000 people have been killed in five weeks of violence that have plunged the already poverty-stricken country deeper into humanitarian crisis.
More than one million have been uprooted, including in excess of 250,000 who have fled across Sudan's borders, fuelling concerns for regional stability.
- 'We are all hungry' -
Hours before the truce was to start, Daglo released a voice message on social media addressing reported violations by his forces -- including rampant looting, targeting civilians and attacks on churches -- all of which he blamed on "coup plotters" in the army.
To his fighters, he said "it is either victory or martyrdom, and victory will be ours".
At the Security Council, Sudan's representative, loyal to Burhan, blamed the RSF for similar violations.
Despite the previous breached truces, civilians clung to hope that the approaching ceasefire would hold, allowing desperately needed aid to bolster dwindling supplies of food, medicine and other essentials.
"We are all hungry, the children, the elderly, everyone is suffering from this war. We have no more water," Khartoum resident Souad al-Fateh told AFP, pleading for both sides to "find an agreement".
More than half of the population, 25 million people, need humanitarian aid, the UN said.
"With a ceasefire, running water can be restored and I will finally be able to see a doctor because I am supposed to see one regularly for my diabetes and high blood pressure," Khaled Saleh, in the capital's twin city of Omdurman, told AFP.
For others, like Thuraya Mohammed in southern Khartoum, it would be a chance to escape because, "Khartoum is no longer a place fit for life. Everything has been destroyed."
Medics have repeatedly said the health care system -- already fragile before the war -- is on the verge of collapse in Khartoum and elsewhere, particularly the western region of Darfur.
- Doubts -
The UN has reported hundreds of civilians killed in the West Darfur capital El Geneina, and in his Security Council address Perthes warned "the growing ethnicisation of the conflict risks to expand and prolong it with implications for the region."
Intense fighting in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur, killed 28 people last week, according to the doctors' union.
Othman al-Zein, a shop owner in Nyala market which has been repeatedly attacked and looted, told AFP that "if the truce holds" he will leave the city.
"Although I doubt it will be implemented across Sudan," he said.
Burhan and Daglo in October 2021 jointly staged a coup that derailed a fragile transition to civilian rule put in place after the 2019 overthrow of former autocrat Omar al-Bashir.
They later fell out in a power struggle, including over the integration of the RSF into the regular army.
Andrew Mitchell, a minister of state in the UK Foreign Office, told AFP in Geneva it is "absolutely essential that we get a ceasefire that is effective and enduring, and we get back onto the political track."