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Sudan turmoil: Gunfire interrupts prayer calls as bloody Eid begins

Residents of Khartoum and Omdurman plot escape and seek survival, with cash scarce and banking apps broken
Muslim worshippers pray on the first day of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, at al-Hara al-Rabaa Mosque in the Juraif Gharb neighbourhood of Khartoum on 21 April 2023 (AFP)
Muslim worshippers pray on the first day of Eid al-Fitr at al-Hara al-Rabaa Mosque in the Juraif Gharb neighbourhood of Khartoum on 21 April 2023 (AFP)

The first day of Eid al-Fitr celebrations in Sudan was interrupted by gunfire, aerial bombardment and rocket launchers, as the sound of battle mingled with calls praising Allah coming from the minarets of mosques.

Despite a three-day truce called by the United Nations, United States and others to mark the Muslim holiday, the sixth day of armed clashes saw no let up in bloody battles between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

What should have been a day of joy, with children dressed in new clothes buying sweets and toys with money gifted to them by their uncles, has become another day dominated by men in khaki uniforms.

Sudanese citizens living in the capital Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman, which are home to over five million people, told Middle East Eye they fear walking on the main roads, while shops are rapidly running out of essential goods and people can't access their cash.

When they look out of their windows they see smoke from bombings, while the news on their mobile phone screens tells them about the agreed ceasefire.

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Aziz Syed Ahmed, a resident of al-Taif neighbourhood in the east of Khartoum, told MEE that most of the residents in the area had fled to safer states in Sudan, such as Al-Jazirah and the River Nile, where there are no battles.

"Those who remained went out this morning to perform the Eid al-Fitr prayer, and after an hour, the strikes of RPG and mortars continued, and are still going on," Ahmed told MEE on Friday morning.

Fighting in Khartoum

The blacksmith, who is also studying architecture, said that a building close to his home had been hit by a shell and was damaged. Al-Taif is currently under the control of the RSF, led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commonly known as Hemeti.

He told MEE that he had witnessed RSF fighters in Al-Taif taking shelter inside civilian buildings.

"At this moment, the [army] fighter jets are flying above us, and the RFS are shooting at them with surface-to-air missiles.

"I don't think hiding under residential buildings and sheltering from the jets bombing is a sign of RSF control. RSF are not in a good shape here," Ahmed, who described himself as a young revolutionary, said.

'Most people have reported that the areas where there is a greater SAF presence are easier for civilians to traverse'

Kholood Khair, Sudanese analyst

The SAF and RSF have been in active conflict since Saturday, with the army controlling the air and the paramilitary group maintaining a greater street presence, though Friday also saw a new and significant deployment of SAF forces on the ground.

Fighting has been particularly intense around strategic bridges, airports, military bases and government offices.

In a change to the norm in Sudan, the fighting has been particularly fierce in Khartoum and Omdurman, which have historically avoided the bloodshed inflicted by state actors.

On Friday morning, the World Health Organisation said at least 413 people had been killed and 3,551 injured in the fighting.

Kholood Khair, a Sudanese analyst and director of think tank Confluence Advisory, told MEE that "most people have reported that the areas where there is a greater SAF presence are easier for civilians to traverse".

This made sense, Khair said, "because SAF is generally better trained, more disciplined and is thus far less likely to go around looting".

No supplies

Tasneem al-Fateh, a journalist living in Abu-Rof, eastern Omdurman, told MEE that people are trying to avoid walking on the main road for fear of being shot.

The neighbourhood, which sits on the western bank of the Nile River, was controlled by the RSF, which captured a radio station there on Monday. 

'A lot of people want to flee Khartoum for safer states. There is not enough petrol except on the black market. The situation is terrible'

Aziz Syed Ahmed, blacksmith

"People only walk inside the alleyways of neighbourhoods and avoid the main roads such as Nile Street, where a car was hit for refusing to stop at an RSF checkpoint. Anyone who disobeys them is considered to be working for the army," al-Fateh told MEE.

She said most shops are empty of dairy products, such as yoghurt and milk, while rice and lentils are quickly running out.

"Some shops were looted, and people are afraid. Luckily, the war in Omdurman started a few hours after Khartoum, so we managed to buy some essential food, like lentils, in large quantities, but these are going to finish soon," al-Fateh said.

The sudden eruption of violence meant that some of the capital's residents were trapped wherever they found themselves on Saturday, when the fighting broke out. 

MEE heard from Khartoum residents who were still sheltering at the houses of friends or relatives they had been visiting, while others referred to people who had remained in shops for hours or even days. Others have been trapped in hospitals, waiting to be evacuated. 

Many citizens have been unable to stock up on food for an extended period. Sudan has a battered economy, and 80 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Leaving the city

Al-Fateh said that her family was thinking of leaving the city, as a few of her neighbours have done by taking buses to the southern state of Al-Jazirah.

"There is only one bakery out of five bakeries left working in the area. I'm not sure if there will be wheat left to make bread," she said. "Some shops open very early in the morning for a couple of hours and then shut. People are anxious that their properties and belongings could be looted if things get worse." 

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But fleeing a war zone is also an expensive endeavour. Ahmed, in Khartoum, told MEE that some people are not fleeing because they can't afford to pay for a bus ticket.

"Very few people have cash, and lots of them use the Bankak app, which the central bank runs, but the app, unfortunately, is not working at the moment."

He said that transport costs had multiplied in the past few days.

"There are a lot of people who want to flee Khartoum to safer states.

"There is not enough petrol except on the black market. The situation is terrible: no water and electricity in Khartoum for days, and the shops that are still open have hiked their prices," he said.

"I still have a glimpse of hope," he said. "Everyone has united against this country, and those fighters are just partisan facades."

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