Sudan’s rival generals have made a new attempt at a 24-hour humanitarian ceasefire after a failed truce the night before.
But sporadic fighting continued and aid groups said they needed guarantees and a wider window to help civilians trapped by five days of intense urban combat.
Terrified Sudanese fled Khartoum earlier in the day, hauling whatever belongings they could carry and trying to get out of the capital, where forces loyal to the country’s top two generals have been battling each other with tanks, artillery and air strikes since Saturday.
The fighting became less intense in the first hours after the ceasefire took effect at 6pm, with sporadic clashes continuing in the city centre, said Atiya Abdalla Atiya, secretary of the Doctors’ Syndicate, who is still in the capital.
Desperate residents of the capital have been running out of food and other supplies as they sheltered in their homes from the gun battles on the streets outside.
Hospitals have been damaged and forced to close or have been overwhelmed by the number of wounded, with staff exhausted and medical supplies depleted.
Increasingly, armed fighters have turned to looting shops and robbing anyone who dares step outside.
Nearly 300 people have been killed in the past five days, the UN health agency said, but the toll is likely to be higher because many bodies lie uncollected in the streets.
In the tense hours after Wednesday’s ceasefire, Abdalla al-Tayeb joined other residents in collecting bodies near the main military headquarters, the scene of intense fighting.
“All of them nearly rotted, causing a foul smell that reached our homes,” he said.
“The scene was heinous.”
Residents of multiple neighbourhoods told The Associated Press they could see men, women and children leaving with luggage, some on foot, others crowding into vehicles.
On Wednesday evening, the army and its rivals, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, separately announced that a new 24-hour truce had begun.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Wednesday called for both sides to stand by the truce, “renounce violence and return to negotiations”.
She said the country’s two top generals, whose forces have turned the capital into a war zone for the past five days “are responsible for ensuring the protections of civilians and non-combatants”.
Until now, army chief General Abdel Fattah Burhan, and RSF commander General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo – former allies against Sudan’s pro-democracy movement – have seemed determined to crush each other in their struggle for power.
Tuesday’s ceasefire attempt failed even after US secretary of state Antony Blinken spoke to each general by phone and after pressure from their regional allies.
Egypt, which backs the Sudanese military, and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have close ties to the RSF, have been calling on all sides to stand down.
Residents said the military was pounding RSF positions with air strikes.
The army’s monopoly on air power has appeared to give it an edge in fighting in Khartoum and Omdurman, enabling it to take several RSF bases over the past few days.
But tens of thousands of fighters from the paramilitary force are fanned out across neighbourhoods.
Residents say armed men, mostly in RSF uniforms, have raided homes, offices and shops in neighbourhoods across Khartoum.
Aid agencies and foreigners, including diplomats, have also been trapped in the fighting.
The aid group Doctors Without Borders, or MSF after its French name, said in a tweet that its compound in Nyala in the western Darfur region had been raided by armed men who stole vehicles and office equipment and looted a warehouse storing medical supplies.
Darfur, which has been the scene of heavy fighting since the weekend, is a stronghold of the RSF, where the force had its origins among the Janjaweed militias, accused of atrocities during the long conflict there.
German media, including the DPA news agency, reported that three A400M transport planes were dispatched to evacuate German citizens from Khartoum, but turned around on Wednesday due to security concerns in Khartoum.
Japan said it was preparing to send military aircraft to evacuate about 60 Japanese nationals.
In Brussels, Dana Spinant, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, confirmed reports that a senior EU official had been shot and wounded in Sudan.
Ms Spinant did not provide details.
The New York Times identified the official as Wim Fransen, a Belgian national.
The report said Mr Fransen was receiving medical treatment for serious injuries.
Another spokeswoman said the EU office in Khartoum is still operating and the delegation is not being evacuated.
The EU ambassador, who was assaulted when gunmen broke into his residence several days ago, is back at work, she said.
Hospitals in Khartoum are running dangerously low on medical supplies, often operating without power and clean water, the ICRC said in a statement.
Dozens of healthcare facilities in Khartoum and around the country have stopped functioning because they are close to clashes, the Sudanese Doctors’ Syndicate said on Wednesday.
At least nine hospitals were bombed, it said.
“Our urgent priority is to get medical assistance to hospitals and try to make repairs to their water and power lines so they can treat the wounded,” said Patrick Youssef, the ICRC’s Africa regional director.
But fighting has made it impossible to reach the facilities.
The Doctors’ Syndicate, which monitors casualties, said on Tuesday that at least 174 civilians have been killed and hundreds wounded.
The conflict between the military and the RSF has once again derailed Sudan’s transition to democratic rule after decades of dictatorship and civil war.
A popular uprising four years ago helped depose long-time autocrat Omar al-Bashir.
But Gen Burhan and Gen Dagalo joined to carry out a 2021 coup.
Both generals have a long history of human rights abuses, and their forces have cracked down on pro-democracy activists.
Under international pressure, Gen Burhan and Gen 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.