(CNN) — Sudan’s military leader condemned what he called an “attempted coup” after a day of intense fighting left at least 180 people dead in the country and saw hospitals coming under attack from missiles as they battled to save lives.
Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who is involved in a bloody tussle for power that has gripped Sudan for three days, told CNN that the paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces (RSF) is leading “an attempted coup and rebellion against the state.”
Clashes first erupted Saturday between the country’s military and the RSF, led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, who told CNN on Sunday the army had broken a UN-brokered temporary humanitarian ceasefire.
Burhan, who alongside Dagalo ousted Sudan’s long-time leader Omar al-Bashir in 2019 and played a key role in the military coup two years later, said his former ally had “mutinied” against the state, and if captured, would be tried in court of law.
On Monday, residents in the capital Khartoum endured sounds of artillery and bombardment by warplanes. Clashes re-erupted around the Army Command building and the Presidential Palace in the capital Khartoum, eyewitnesses said, as fighter jets hovered over the capital, and ground anti-aircraft defenses fired at the planes.
An eyewitness sheltering in the Sudanese capital told CNN that Monday has been the heaviest day of shelling since the outbreak of violence began on Saturday.
Heavy bomb blasts were heard in the city of Bahri in the north of the capital Khartoum, witnesses added.
Hospitals in the country — which are short of blood supplies and life-saving equipment — are being targeted with military strikes by both the Army and the RSF, according to eyewitness accounts to CNN and two doctors’ organizations, leaving medical personnel unable to reach the wounded and to bury the dead.
One doctor at a Khartoum hospital — whom CNN is not naming for security reasons — said his facility has been targeted since Saturday. “A direct strike hit the maternity ward. We could hear heavy weaponry and lay on the floor, along with our patients. The hospital itself was under attack.”
CNN has reached out to the Sudanese military and the RSF for comment.
Another doctor at the same al-Moallem Hospital told CNN that hospital staff stayed on site under bombardment from the RSF for two days, before being evacuated by the Sudanese military. “We were living in a real battle,” the doctor said. “Can you believe that we left the hospital and left behind children in incubators and patients in intensive care without any medical personnel? I can’t believe that I survived dying at the hospital, where the smell of death is everywhere.”
International leaders have urged for calm.
The European Union ambassador to Sudan was assaulted in his residency in Sudan, the bloc’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell said on Monday.
“A few hours ago, the EU Ambassador in Sudan was assaulted in his own residency,” Borrell said on Twitter, without providing further details on the incident, which he described as a “a gross violation of the Vienna Convention.”
He added that “security of diplomatic premises and staff is a primary responsibility of Sudanese authorities and an obligation under international law,” he said.
Borrell also said the EU is working to persuade the leadership of the two rival parties to “consider humanitarian pause” in Sudan.
The White House condemned the escalating violence and called “for an immediate ceasefire without conditions between the Sudanese armed forces and the rapid deployment of support forces,” National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told reporters.
Dispute over ceasefire
The sound of gunshots rang out in the background as Burhan spoke to CNN on Monday, despite an agreed-on ceasefire at 4 p.m. local time (10 a.m. ET). He claimed that for a second day, the RSF’s leader had violated that agreed ceasefire.
“Yesterday and today a humanitarian ceasefire proposal was put forward and agreed upon. Sadly, he did not abide by it. You can hear right now the attempts to storm the Army headquarters, and indiscriminate mortar attacks. He’s using the humanitarian pause to continue the fight,” he said.
When asked about that allegation, a spokesperson for the RSF told CNN that the RSF was trying to abide by the ceasefire, but “they keep firing which leaves no choice” but for the RSF to “defend itself by firing back.”
Hemedti said Monday his group will pursue the leader of Sudan’s Armed Forces Abdel Fattah al-Burhan “and bring him to justice,” while Sudan’s army called on paramilitary fighters to defect and join the armed forces.
Verified video footage shows military jets and helicopters hitting the airport; other clips show the charred remains of the army’s General Command building nearby after it was engulfed in fire on Sunday.
Residents in neighborhoods east of the airport told CNN they saw warplanes bombing sites east of the command. “We saw explosions and smoke rising from Obaid Khatim Street, and immediately after that, anti-aircraft artillery fired massively towards the planes,” one eyewitness said.
An eyewitness, Amal Bakhit, spoke to CNN alongside her cousin Asiel Mohamed. Both women are United States residents, but recently traveled to Khartoum to visit family, and are now stuck inside the country.
She said shelling on Monday was the heaviest since the fighitng began. “It’s been going on since early morning today. Today was the heaviest artillery we have heard during the past three days. We couldn’t sleep,” she said.
Bakhit said that people in Sudan are used to hearing artillery and gunshots since 2018 when widespread unrest rocked the country, but the past several days have not been the same.
“This time it’s different because it’s between two forces, and we seem not to be ready for that. This is war. We are not prepared for that.” she said.
Confusion amid the crisis
Amid the chaos, both parties to the fighting are working to portray a sense of control in the capital. The armed forces said Monday the Rapid Support Forces are circulating “lies to mislead the public,” reiterating the army have “full control of all of their headquarters” in the capital Khartoum.
Sudan’s national state television channel came back on air on Monday, a day after going dark, and is broadcasting messages in support of the army.
A banner on the channel said “the armed forces were able to regain control of the national broadcaster after repeated attempts by the militias to destroy its infrastructure.” Although the armed forces appear to have control of the television signal, CNN cannot independently verify that the army is in physical control of the Sudan TV premises.
A banner on the channel said “the armed forces were able to regain control of the national broadcaster after repeated attempts by the militias to destroy its infrastructure.”
In the Kafouri area, north of Khartoum, clashes and street fights broke out at dawn Monday, prompting residents to begin evacuating women and children from the area, Sudanese journalist Fathi Al-Ardi wrote on Facebook. In the Kalakla area, south of the capital, residents reported the walls of their houses shaking from explosions.
Reports also emerged of battles hundreds of miles away in the eastern city of Port Sudan and the western Darfur region over the weekend.
As of Monday, at least 180 people have been killed and at least 1800 others were injured in the ongoing clashes, according to Volker Perthes, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Sudan.
The WHO has warned that doctors and nurses are struggling to reach people in need of urgent care, and are lacking essential supplies.
Water and power cuts are affecting the functionality of health facilities, and shortages of fuel for hospital generators are also being reported,” the WHO added.
In the CNN interview, Dagalo blamed the military for starting the conflict and claimed RSF “had to keep fighting to defend ourselves.”
He speculated that the army chief and his rival, al-Burhan, had lost control of the military. When asked if his endgame was to rule Sudan, Dagalo said he had “no such intentions,” and that there should be a civilian government.
Amid the fighting, civilians have been warned to stay indoors. One local resident tweeted that they were “trapped inside our own homes with little to no protection at all.”
“All we can hear is continuous blast after blast. What exactly is happening and where we don’t know, but it feels like it’s directly over our heads,” they wrote.
Access to information is also limited, with the government-owned national TV channel now off the air. Television employees told CNN that it is in the hands of the RSF.
Services halted, evacuations begun
The conflict has put other countries and organizations on high alert. The United Nations along with its humanitarian partners will temporarily shut down many of its more than 250 programmes across Sudan amid the intense hostilities taking place in the country, UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said Monday in a statement.
This comes after the UN’s World Food Program temporarily halted all operations in Sudan after three employees were killed in clashes on Saturday.
UN and other humanitarian facilities in Darfur have been looted, while a WFP-managed aircraft was seriously damaged by gunfire in Khartoum, impeding the WFP’s ability to transport aid and workers within the country, the international aid agency said.
Qatar Airways announced Sunday it was temporarily suspending flights to and from Khartoum due to the closure of its airport and airspace.
On Sunday, Dagalo told CNN the RSF was in control of the airport, as well as several other government buildings in the capital.
Meanwhile, Mexico is working to evacuate its citizens from Sudan, with the country’s foreign minister saying Sunday it is looking to “expedite” their exit.
The United States embassy in Sudan said Sunday there were no plans for a government-coordinated evacuation yet for Americans in the country, citing the closure of the Khartoum airport. It advised US citizens to stay indoors and shelter in place, adding that it would make an announcement “if evacuation of private US citizens becomes necessary.”