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Sudan cease-fire fails to hold; U.S. convoy, aid workers attacked

Satellite images from Maxar Technologies show destroyed fighter jets and helicopters at various airports and air bases in Sudan on April 18. (Video: ©2023 Maxar Technologies via Storyful, Photo: AFP PHOTO/Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies/©2023 Maxar Technologies via Storyful)
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NAIROBI — Gunfire and explosions continued in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, on Tuesday evening, after the deadline for a 24-hour cease-fire set by the country’s rival armed forces. Aid workers and a U.S. diplomatic convoy came under fire amid the spiraling violence.

Residents reported an intense burst of fighting in the run-up to the planned truce.

In the lead-up to the 6 p.m. deadline, despite issuing statements in support of the evening cease-fire, the warring military factions continued to level accusations of attacks against each other, while witnesses described ongoing shelling, gunfire and explosions in Khartoum.

Minutes after the cease-fire was slated to begin, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, said in a tweet that its forces were under sporadic attack. “We must announce to the international community that the coup forces have no agreement,” the group said, referring to the rival faction.

Fighting has killed more than 185 civilians in some of the worst clashes to rock Sudan in years. A U.N. report described gunmen attacking homes, looting the offices of humanitarian agencies and assaulting their staff.

The crisis has forced the United Nations to temporarily halt much of its operations, spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said. Martin Griffiths, the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, said on Twitter that the agency received “reports of attacks and sexual violence against aid workers.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said a U.S. diplomatic convoy was fired on but no U.S. personnel were injured. He described the attack as “reckless” and “unacceptable,” and said it was under investigation.

Blinken said the incident reinforced the need for a cease-fire and raised his concerns to the rival leaders: Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, commander of the Sudanese armed forces, and Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the commander of the RSF, who is referred to as Hemedti.

Sudan’s neighbors fear spillover as death toll from clashes nears 200

The RSF said after the phone call with Blinken that it had agreed to a 24-hour cease-fire to allow the safe passage of civilians, including those injured.

Lt. Gen. Shams El Din Kabbashi, a member of Sudan’s military council, told the Arabic-language news outlet al-Arabiya that a cease-fire was expected to start at 6 p.m. local time, while CNN Arabic quoted Burhan as saying the army would agree to a 24-hour cease-fire.

Still, the RSF accused the military of conducting airstrikes, while the army countered that the paramilitary group wanted a cease-fire “to cover up the crushing defeat it will meet” and accused it of trying to secure military aid from neighboring countries. The Washington Post could not independently verify the claims.

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Caught in the crossfire were residents who were trapped or sheltering at home on Tuesday. The 12 largest hospitals in Khartoum have been evacuated and closed, according to a statement from the Sudan Doctors Union.

“My uncle and his wife had to leave their home … because the area has been taken over by the RSF. He was telling me that they placed the rocket/missile launchers in front of their door, firing at fighter jets from within the neighbourhoods,” tweeted Raga Makawi, an editor and Sudanese democracy activist.

The long-standing rivalry between Sudan’s military and the powerful RSF — which previously cooperated to derail the country’s democratic transition — erupted into street battles over the weekend, raising fears in Sudan’s neighbors that the turmoil could spill across borders and destabilize the region.

Sudan’s power struggle has killed nearly 200. Here’s what to know.

The two generals formed an uneasy alliance during a 2021 coup that toppled a short-lived civilian government, but a draft power-sharing deal stoked tensions in recent months.

“If it doesn’t stop soon we are likely to see conflict fragmentation, as we did in Yemen, where you see a plethora of groups loyal to nobody,” said Rashid Abdi, the chief analyst at Sahan, a Nairobi-based think tank.

The fighting shut hospitals, prevented medical workers from delivering aid and blocked access for ambulances, according to aid groups in Sudan, which reported armed assaults.

According to an internal U.N. security report shared with The Post by personnel in Sudan, gunmen, reportedly from the RSF, forced their way into the homes of foreigners in Khartoum, separating men and women and taking them away. The report said one Japanese woman had been raped and another woman sexually assaulted, while two Nigerian staff members were abducted.

Armed men were also stealing vehicles, firing at security guards, and had taken over private homes of U.N. staff members and other international workers to use as bases, the report said.

A compound housing U.N. offices came under attack by snipers, although no staff members were hurt, the report added.

“The trend of criminality targeting U.N. and humanitarian personnel has also increased in Khartoum and other regions of the country, particularly in Darfur,” the report said, listing some aid agencies whose offices were looted.

On Monday evening, the European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, tweeted that the E.U. ambassador to Sudan had been “assaulted in his own residency.”

Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, said its premises were looted in the Darfuri town of Nyala but that its small team was still operating the only running hospital in North Darfur.

An MSF project coordinator, Cyrus Paye, said the majority of the wounded were civilians, including many children, and that fighting had forced all the other hospitals in North Darfur province to close.

In Khartoum, most MSF teams are unable to access warehouses to deliver medical supplies to hospitals. “Ambulances are not being permitted to pass in order to retrieve the bodies of the dead from the streets,” the aid group said.

A North American who was trapped with his wife and daughter said there were heavy airstrikes and attacks by helicopter gunships early Tuesday. “Getting various reports about the nature of the invasions. In some cases it was to take up positions on roofs. Government forces seem to be going house to house in some areas,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear for his safety.

One German mother who had been sleeping in her son’s school basement for four days said she was worried both about her young son’s safety and his mental health. There had been airstrikes the whole morning, she said, also speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“I think it’s the noises that are the worst trigger,” she said. “We have gotten into a little routine. We wake up with the sounds of heavy weapons, we spend the first two hours in the basement, then we come upstairs to play.”

Hudson reported from Karuizawa, Japan, Francis from Munich and Westfall from Washington.