Warring generals in Sudan have agreed to extend by five days a humanitarian ceasefire they repeatedly violated and which failed to deliver promised aid corridors.
Residents told AFP news agency they could hear gunfire after dark on Monday, shortly before the ceasefire extension was announced. Earlier, they reported street battles in northern Khartoum, as well as artillery fire in the south of the city, where a plume of grey smoke was visible.
A day earlier, mediators from the United States and Saudi Arabia had said there were “violations by both parties that significantly impeded” the truce’s goals of allowing humanitarian aid for civilians, delivered through secure corridors, and the restoration of essential services.
They added that both the army headed by Abdel Fattah al Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, were “posturing for further escalation”.
But shortly before the initial one-week ceasefire was to expire at 1945 GMT, Washington and Riyadh announced the extension.
“While imperfectly observed, the May 20, 2023 ceasefire enabled delivery of humanitarian assistance”, they said in a joint statement. “The extension will permit further humanitarian efforts.”
Since the truce began a week ago, frightened residents have ventured out to try and get food or water, the costs of which they say have doubled since the start of the war.
In a “major breakthrough”, the World Food Programme said Monday that it had begun reaching thousands of Khartoum’s trapped residents.
Many families have continued to shelter in place, rationing water and electricity while trying desperately to avoid stray gunfire in the city of more than five million people – nearly 700,000 of whom have fled, according to the United Nations.
In Darfur, on Sudan’s western border with Chad, continued fighting “blatantly disregards ceasefire commitments”, according to Toby Harward, of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR.
“Intermittent fighting between Sudanese armed forces and Rapid Support Forces in El Fasher, North Darfur over the last few days” has seen civilians killed, homes looted and tens of thousands newly displaced in the already war-ravaged region, Harward said.
The persistent fighting has impeded delivery of the aid and protection needed by a record 25 million people, more than half the population, according to the UN.
Despite the increasing needs, it says it has only received 13 percent of the $2.6 billion it requires.
A week ago, representatives of Burhan and Dagalo signed a written agreement to pause the incessant air strikes, artillery fire and street battles in order to let the aid flow.
But by the seventh day of the truce relief supplies had only trickled in, including to replenish the few hospitals that are still functioning in the capital.
For the first time in Khartoum since the war began, though, WFP on Saturday started giving out food assistance to families “struggling to make it through each day as food and basic supplies dwindle,” said WFP’s country director Eddie Rowe.
Sudan’s already fragile health sector faces compounded challenges, with three quarters of hospitals in combat zones out of service, according to the doctors’ union.