A major blaze engulfed a fuel facility in Sudan’s capital Khartoum as fighting raged between rival military factions for a crucial weapons depot as the battle for the country intensified.
Live footage from Arab satellite channels on Wednesday showed a large fire and columns of smoke billowing from the fuel-storage site that is close to an army base and the weapons manufacturing company.
The arms firm that owns the site – one of the biggest in Africa – operates in the Yarmouk residential area and civilians there said they fear the fire – blazing for several hours – will eventually engulf entire neighborhoods in southern Khartoum.
The Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have fought to control the key facilities surrounding the base since late Tuesday.
The RSF, in the eighth week of a power struggle with the army, attacked the area containing the Yarmouk weapons complex before retreating after heavy fighting, witnesses said.
Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from Omdurman where the incident was unfolding, said “intense fighting” between the RSF and the Sudanese army was still underway near the army-owned facility. Witnesses said they could hear heavy artillery, air strikes, and small-arms fire.
“The RSF says it is now in control of the weapons manufacturing company, but the Sudanese army says fighting is ongoing – that they are still targeting the RSF and the company’s arms depot is not completely under their control,” Morgan said.
RSF quickly seized swathes of the capital after the conflict erupted in Khartoum on April 15. Army air strikes and artillery fire have shown little sign of dislodging the paramilitaries, but as the fighting drags on the RSF may face a challenge restocking ammunition and fuel.
Fighting across the three cities that make up Sudan’s greater capital region – Khartoum, Khartoum North, and Omdurman – has picked up since a 12-day ceasefire formally expired on June 3 after repeated violations.
“Since yesterday there has been a violent battle with the use of planes and artillery and clashes on the ground and columns of smoke rising,” said Nader Youssef, a resident living near Yarmouk.
Because of the proximity of fuel storage sites, “any explosion could destroy residents and the whole area”, he said.
The conflict has wreaked havoc on the capital, triggered new outbursts of deadly violence in the volatile western region of Darfur, and displaced more than 1.9 million people.
Most health services have collapsed, power and water are often cut, and looting and lawlessness are spreading.
North of Khartoum’s Blue Nile River, activists said more than 50 days of water cuts had driven many people from their homes and they were caught between having nothing to drink and being trapped in the crossfire as they searched for water.
Sudan’s health ministry has recorded at least 780 civilian deaths as a direct result of the fighting. Hundreds more have been killed in the city of El Geneina in West Darfur. Medical officials say many bodies remain uncollected or unrecorded.
The ceasefire that ended on Saturday was brokered by Saudi Arabia and the United States at talks in Jeddah, where a mediator said negotiations were continuing in an effort to provide safe passage for humanitarian assistance.
The United Nations says aid that could reach about 2.2 million people had been delivered since late May but some 25 million – more than half the population – are in need of assistance.
Fire erupts after Sudan’s warring military factions battle over weapons and fuel stores in the capital Khartoum.