Smoke fills the sky in Khartoum, Sudan, near Doha International Hospital on Friday. The Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday, typically filled with prayer, celebration, and feasting — was a somber one in Sudan, as gunshots rang out across the capital of Khartoum and heavy smoke billowed over the skyline. Maheen S via Associated Press

World leaders called on Sudan’s rival armed forces to commit to a cease-fire for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr on Friday after a week of fighting that has rocked the country and killed at least 400 people.

Thousands of Sudanese have been injured and trapped in the power struggle between the army chief, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

Fighting at the airports has prevented any kind of evacuation, even as governments including the United States have sent planes and troops to Sudan’s neighbors in preparation for extricating their citizens.

Some 16,000 U.S. citizens are in Sudan, according to a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information. Around 70 people work at the embassy, excluding local staff. Sudan is an unaccompanied post for U.S. diplomats, meaning U.S. officials generally do not have family there.

The RSF said early Friday that it agreed to a 72-hour cease-fire for the holiday, which marks the end of Ramadan. Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the announcement and urged both sides to end hostilities.

“I reiterate my call on both sides to pause the fighting to allow civilians to take care of themselves and their families, to permit full and unimpeded humanitarian access, and to enable all civilians, including diplomatic personnel, to reach safety,” Blinken said.

However, residents of the capital Khartoum reported gunfire and shelling as morning Eid prayers began. Mosques held prayers inside, rather than out in the open, in a muted commemoration of a typically joyous holiday, the Associated Press reported.

“Instead of waking up to the call to prayer, people in Khartoum again woke up to heavy fighting,” the Norwegian ambassador tweeted Friday.

The army said in a statement that it had moved to “the stage of gradual cleansing of the hotbeds of rebel groups” around the capital. In a speech posted online earlier on Friday, Burhan made no mention of a cease-fire.

The RSF said it sought to achieve people’s aspirations of “democracy and the rule of law.” But the comments from two factions firing at each other in the streets rang hollow for many Sudanese.


Residential buildings damaged in fighting are seen in Khartoum, Sudan, on Thursday. Marwan Ali/Associated Press

Later Friday, the RSF posted videos of its fighters on Twitter, claiming to have expanded its control over downtown Khartoum and to have destroyed army equipment “in a new battle.”

The warring generals were once allied, seizing power in a 2021 coup that ended the country’s short-lived civilian government and derailed its democratic transition after long-ruling dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir was deposed. Tensions between the two generals erupted last weekend amid divisions over a draft power-sharing deal.

Previous temporary cease-fire efforts have failed, and Blinken said Friday that the next step after this latest attempt would be to begin negotiations for a sustainable cease-fire that addresses the delivery of humanitarian assistance, protection of civilians, and the withdrawal of both forces from urban areas.

“We remind both belligerents of their obligations under international humanitarian law, including their obligation to respect all rights of civilians,” Blinken said. “The international community remains ready to support a process to bring an end to this fighting and a start to civilian government.”

Biden administration officials said the Defense Department was preparing troops near Sudan in case U.S. diplomatic and other personnel needed emergency evacuation. Despite the risks, the department has not ruled out the possibility of such an evacuation mission.

European nations also declined to set a timeline for a possible evacuation, citing difficulties.

The specter of the 2012 attacks on U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, Libya, looms over these discussions, said Cameron Hudson, former chief of staff for presidential special envoys for Sudan. Those attacks, carried out by Islamist extremists, resulted in the deaths of four U.S. personnel, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

If embassy personnel were to get injured or killed, administration officials could face grilling by Congress. Unlike other embassies, however, which are located on busy streets in downtown Khartoum, the U.S. Embassy is “a walled fortress” located on the outskirts of the city, which could make an airlift by helicopter easier, Hudson said.

Asked whether the Biden administration should have pulled out U.S. personnel before the fighting, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said there could be a time to look at steps taken “retrospectively.” Before fighting broke out, he said, State Department officials on the ground were working assiduously to “head off” hostilities, and then “the fighting quickly accelerated.”

Another precedent U.S. officials will likely seek to avoid repeating: The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, for which the administration continues to come under criticism.

The State Department has instructed U.S. citizens in Sudan to remain indoors and avoid travel to the embassy.

The U.S. government is not undertaking an evacuation of citizens, which would be too dangerous while the Khartoum International Airport and Sudan’s border with Chad remained closed, said State Department spokesman Vedant Patel. The State Department has been in touch with “several hundred” American citizens in Sudan, Patel said, many of whom have registered under the department’s Smart Traveler program – a free service that provides Americans updates on safety conditions and helps U.S. embassies contact Americans in an emergency.

Still, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said it is not “standard procedure” to evacuate private citizens living abroad. U.S. officials have been warning citizens in Sudan to leave for months.


Smoke fills the sky in Khartoum, Sudan, near Doha International Hospital on Friday. Maheen S via Associated Press

The majority of U.S. citizens in Sudan are dual nationals, Hudson said. Decades of unrest in the country have led to the flight of refugees, many of whom wound up in the United States and obtained citizenship. Some may have returned to Sudan.

Street battles have prevented ambulances from retrieving the dead and medics from delivering aid, and the conflict has pushed the United Nations to halt most operations around the country as aid workers come under attack. Many residents have had to hide at home while enduring power cuts and dwindling food supplies. Some have tried to find a way out, braving the danger.

“As a family we made the decision that there’s no place safe to go, especially when we know the roads aren’t safe,” Tagreed Adbin, a resident of Khartoum, told The Washington Post. “People are being robbed or shot at gunpoint. Some people have had their cars stolen as they tried to flee.”

At least nine children have been killed and 50 injured in the fighting, James Elder, the spokesman for the U.N. children’s agency, said at a briefing Friday.

An employee of the International Organization for Migration was killed when he was caught in the crossfire as he was traveling with his family, the U.N. agency said in a statement.

In the war-ravaged Darfur in western Sudan, between 10,000 and 20,000 people are estimated to have fled into neighboring Chad.

“We are seeing that the refugees arriving over the border are traumatized and are arriving with very little provisions,” Aleksandra Roulet-Cimpric, the director in Chad for the International Rescue Committee, said in a news release Friday. “The greatest need is for health services as well as water, sanitation, hygiene and protection services, particularly for women and girls.”

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres also appealed for a cease-fire to allow civilians to reach safety, and the World Health Organization called for a pause to allow it to deliver medical supplies. Most of the major hospitals in the capital have closed.

Farhan Aziz Haq, a spokesman for Guterres, said the United Nations has not been able to evacuate any of its staff.

Egypt on Thursday evacuated Egyptian troops that had been training with the Sudanese army and were detained by the RSF on Saturday.

With Khartoum’s airport closed, South Korea said Friday that it sent a military aircraft to a U.S. base in Djibouti, where the plane will be on standby to evacuate 26 nationals who are in Sudan. Japan’s defense minister on Thursday also ordered military aircraft sent to Djibouti to be ready for an evacuation of around 60 Japanese nationals from Sudan, and the Netherlands sent aircraft to Jordan, according to the AP.

Germany is in contact with other governments to discuss plans to evacuate its citizens from Sudan. The number of Germans in the country is in the hundreds, said Christofer Burger, the German Foreign Ministry spokesman, in a briefing Friday.

Canadian foreign affairs minister Mélanie Joly told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. on Thursday that evacuating Canadian citizens and diplomatic staff from Sudan was “impossible” given security risks in Khartoum. Global Affairs Canada said some 1,500 Canadians have notified the government they are in Sudan, the CBC reported.

Spain’s foreign minister, José Manuel Albares, said it was “not possible to predict” when an evacuation might be feasible, according to the AP.

The Washington Post’s Min Joo Kim in Seoul, Amanda Coletta in Toronto, Karen DeYoung in Washington, and Kate Brady in Berlin contributed to this report.

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