The Sudanese army and a rival paramilitary force that have been battling the past four days for control of the country agreed on Tuesday to a 24-hour cease-fire, Arab media reports said.
Hopes for at least a pause in the violence came as intensified fighting threatened to spiral even further into chaos. Millions of Sudanese in the capital and in other major cities have been hiding in their homes, caught in the crossfire as the two forces pounded residential areas with artillery and airstrikes and engaged in gunbattles in the street.
Over the past day, fighters in Khartoum attacked a U.S. Embassy convoy and stormed the home of the EU envoy to Sudan, though neither attack caused casualties. The convoy of clearly marked U.S. Embassy vehicles was attacked on Monday, and preliminary reports link the assailants to the Rapid Support Forces, the paramilitary group battling Sudan’s military, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters. Everyone in the convoy was safe, he said.
Satellite channels Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera cited Lt. Gen. Shams El Din Kabbashi, a senior figure in the military command, as saying that the military would comply with the cease-fire. CNN Arabic cited the head of the military, Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, saying it would be party to the day-long truce. Earlier in the day, the military’s opponent, the Rapid Support Forces, said it would abide by a 24-hour humanitarian truce.
There was no immediate public announcement of a cease-fire from military officials, however. In the afternoon clashes were still reported around the military’s headquarters and close to the neighboring airport, both major battle zones since fighting first erupted on Saturday. There was also fighting around a strategic air base in Merowe, some 350 kilometers (215 miles) northwest of Khartoum.
More than 185 people have been killed and more than 1,800 wounded since fighting began Saturday, according to U.N. figures, which did not include a breakdown of civilians and combatants. The Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate said Tuesday that at least 144 civilians were killed and more than 1,400 were wounded.
The overall death toll could be much higher because clashes in Khartoum have prevented the removal of bodies in some areas.
The violence has raised the specter of civil war just as the Sudanese were trying to revive the drive for a democratic, civilian government after decades of military rule. Amid increasing alarm, Blinken had stepped up efforts for a cease-fire.
He spoke by phone late Monday separately with the two rival generals — armed forces chief, Gen. Burhan, and RSF leader Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo — seeking a 24-hour halt in fighting as a foundation for a longer truce and return to negotiations.
Dagalo said in a series of tweets Tuesday that he had approved a 24-hour humanitarian truce after speaking to Blinken.
The military’s initial response appeared to reject any halt. It said in a statement that it was “not aware of any coordination with mediators” on a truce and that more troops would join the battle. The fighting, it said, “entered the decisive phase,” and that the coming hours would see a “crushing defeat” of the RSF.
More tanks and armored vehicles belonging to the military rolled into Khartoum early Tuesday, heading towards the military’s headquarters and the Republican Palace, the seat of power, residents said. During the night, fighter jets swooped overhead and anti-aircraft fire lit up the skies.
Fighting resumed early Tuesday around each side’s main bases and at strategic government buildings — all of which are in residential areas. Video from the Arab TV network Al Arabiya showed a large explosion near the main military headquarters in central Khartoum that raised a giant cloud of smoke and dust.
Satellite images from Maxar Technologies taken Monday showed damage across Khartoum, including to security service buildings. Tanks stood guard at a bridge over the White Nile River and other locations in the Sudanese capital.
Satellite images from Planet Labs PBC, also taken Monday, showed some 20 damaged civilian and military aircraft at Khartoum International Airport, which has a military section. Some had been completely destroyed, with one still belching smoke. At the El Obeid and Merowe air bases, north and south of Khartoum, several fighter jets were among the destroyed aircraft.
Each side already has tens of thousands of troops distributed around the districts of Khartoum and the city of Omdurman on the opposite bank of the Nile River. That has brought the fighting and chaos — with gunbattles, artillery barrages and airstrikes — to the doorsteps of the cities’ terrified residents.
Residents have reported looting of shops and homes by fighters. One resident near Khartoum’s Arabic Market area, said he saw a group of armed men in RSF uniform smashing doors of shops in the area and stealing goods including mobile phones. The paramilitary force denied the accusations and claimed that some people disguised as RSF troops and stormed residential houses.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell tweeted Monday that the EU ambassador to Sudan “was assaulted in his own residency,” without providing further details.
A Western diplomat in Cairo said the residence was ransacked by armed men in RSF uniforms. No one was hurt but the armed men stole several items, said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
The RSF denied involvement in the attack, instead blaming the military. The military blamed the RSF, which grew out of the notorious Janjaweed militias in Sudan’s Darfur region, for the attacks on the U.S. convoy and the EU envoy’s home.
Early Sunday, the Norwegian ambassador’s residence in Khartoum was hit by a shell, Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said in a statement. The hit caused damage but the ambassador was not injured, she said, adding that it did not appear the residence was intentionally targeted.
Only four years ago, Sudan inspired hope after a popular uprising helped depose long-time autocratic leader Omar al-Bashir.
Burhan and Dagalo jointly orchestrated an October 2021 coup, derailing efforts to enshrine a civilian government. Both generals have a long history of human rights abuses, and their forces have cracked down on pro-democracy activists.
Under international pressure, Burhan and Dagalo recently agreed to a framework agreement with political parties and pro-democracy groups. But the signing was repeatedly delayed as tensions rose over the integration of the RSF into the armed forces and the future chain of command — tensions that exploded into violence Saturday.
—Jack Jeffery And Samy Magdy, The Associated Press