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First batch of evacuees from battle-hit Sudan arrives in Jeddah

More than 150 people, including foreign diplomats and officials, rescued from battle-scarred Sudan have arrived in Jeddah, the Saudi foreign ministry said, in the first announced evacuation of civilians since fighting began.

The evacuation was carried out by the kingdom’s naval forces with the support of other branches of the army, the foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

It announced the “safe arrival” of 91 Saudi citizens and around 66 nationals from 12 other countries — Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Tunisia, Pakistan, India, Bulgaria, Bangladesh, the Philipines, Canada and Burkina Faso.

The foreigners included “diplomats and (government) officials”, the ministry said without giving further details.

Saudi Arabia “worked to provide all the necessary needs of foreign nationals” ahead of their departure to their respective countries, the statement added.

Saudi state-run Al-Ekhbariya television released several videos of warships approaching Jeddah’s port on Saturday.

The evacuees were received by officials and soldiers who distributed sweets on the occasion of the Islamic Eid al-Fitr holiday which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, footage showed.

Women and children holding Saudi flags were also seen getting off one of the ships.

Among those who arrived in Jeddah on Saturday was the crew of a Saudi passenger plane that was hit by gunfire while preparing to take off from Khartoum at the start of the fighting on April 15, according to Al-Ekhbariya.

The broadcaster said that the evacuees were transported in a convoy of vehicles to Port Sudan from where they boarded ships to Jeddah.

It was the first evacuation of civilians from Sudan since violence erupted there a week ago.

Earlier on Saturday, Sudan’s army said its chief Abdel Fattah al Burhan had received calls from leaders of several countries to “facilitate and guarantee safety for evacuating citizens and diplomatic missions”.

It noted that the evacuations are expected to begin “in the coming hours”, adding that the United States, Britain, France and China are planning to airlift their nationals out of Khartoum using military jets.

Clashes erupted on April 15 between forces loyal to Burhan and those of his deputy-turned-rival Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

The former allies seized power in a 2021 coup but later fell out in a bitter power struggle.

The conflict — much of which has taken place in Khartoum — has left hundreds dead and thousands wounded.

Heavy gunfire, loud explosions, and fighter jets roared in many parts of the capital Saturday morning, according to witnesses.

The Sudanese army earlier said it was coordinating efforts to evacuate diplomats from the United States, Britain, China and France out of the country on military airplanes, as fighting persisted in the capital, including at its main airport despite a supposed Eid al Fitr truce.

The military said army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al Burhan had spoken to leaders of various countries requesting safe evacuations of their citizens and diplomats from Sudan, which has been roiled by bloody fighting for the past week.

Countries have struggled to repatriate their citizens amid deadly clashes that have killed over 400 people so far.

With Sudan’s main international airport closed, foreign countries have ordered their citizens to simply shelter in place until they can figure out evacuation plans.

Burhan said that diplomats from Saudi Arabia had already been evacuated from Port Sudan and airlifted back to the kingdom. He said that Jordan’s diplomats would soon be evacuated in the same way.

Overnight, the heavy explosions that had previously rocked the city in recent days had subsided, but on Saturday morning, bursts of gunfire resumed.

The army had announced on Friday that it had “agreed to a ceasefire for three days” for the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had called for a day earlier.

Dagalo said in a statement he had “discussed the current crisis” with Guterres, and was “focused on the humanitarian truce, safe passages, and protecting humanitarian workers”.

Two previous 24-hour ceasefires announced earlier in the week were also ignored.

The fighting has seen the RSF — a force tens of thousands strong, formed from members of the Janjaweed militia that led years of violence in the western Darfur region — take on the regular army, with neither side seemingly having seized the advantage.

Sudan fighting eases as rival generals agree to three-day Eid ceasefire

‘Stench of blood’

In Khartoum, a city of five million people, the conflict upended the lives of civilians, who have sheltered in terror inside their homes without electricity in baking heat for days.

Many civilians have ventured out only to get urgent food supplies or to flee the city.

Eid is meant to be spent “with sweets and pastries, with happy children, and people greeting relatives”, resident Sami al-Nour told AFP. Instead, there has been “gunfire and the stench of blood all around us”.

While Khartoum has seen some of the fiercest battles — with fighters jets launching air strikes, tanks prowling the streets and gunfire in densely populated districts — violence also exploded across the country.

Late Friday, the army accused the RSF of attacks in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman where they released “a l arge number of inmates” from a prison, accusations the group denies.

Battles have also raged in Darfur, where Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the city of El Fasher said their medics had been “overwhelmed” by the number of patients with gunshot wounds, many of them children.

READ MORE: Clashes reported in Sudan despite RSF agreement on 72-hour Eid ceasefire

Embassies ready for evacuation

Plans are being made to evacuate foreign nationals, with the United States, South Korea and Japan deploying forces to nearby countries and the European Union weighing a similar move.

On Friday, the US State Department said the situation was still too risky for an evacuation of embassy personnel.

Later, the RSF said it was ready to “partially” open “all airports” in Sudan to evacuate foreign citizens, although it is not possible to verify which airports they control.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said 413 people had been killed and 3,551 wounded in the fighting across Sudan, but the actual death toll is thought to be higher, with many wounded unable to reach hospitals.

More than two-thirds of hospitals in Khartoum and neighbouring states are now “out of service”, the doctors’ union said. Others have been looted, and at least four hospitals in North Kordofan state were shelled.

The World Food Programme said the violence could plunge millions more into hunger in a country where 15 million people — one-third of the population need aid.

Analysts fear countries across the region risk being dragged into the conflict, with the International Crisis Group (IGC) warning urgent steps were needed to stop a descent into “full-blown civil war”.

Burhan and Dagalo’s dispute centred on the planned integration of the RSF into the regular army, a key condition for a deal aimed at restoring Sudan’s democratic transition.

The military toppled autocratic president Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 following massive protests against his three decades of iron-fisted rule.

In October 2021, Burhan and Dagalo joined forces to oust a civilian government installed after Bashir’s downfall, derailing an internationally backed transition to democracy.

Dagalo now says the coup was a “mistake” that failed to bring about change, while Burhan believes it was “necessary” to include more groups into politics.

Sudan army general vows transition to democracy but Eid truce falls apart

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