Sudan’s Fasher could imminently fall into rebel hands

The US envoy to Sudan warned that El Fasher, a besieged city in western Darfur, could imminently fall into the hands of rebel forces.

El Fasher is the only town still under army control in the western Darfur region.

The armed forces have been fighting the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in a 14-month civil war.

US envoy Tom Perriello told the BBC that some RSF members believe capturing El Fasher will help them establish Darfur as a breakaway state.

Perriello said the United States would not recognize an independent Darfur “under any circumstances.”

“I think that if there is anyone in RSF territory who thinks that taking El Fasher means that they will somehow have a right to the state of Darfur, they should be disillusioned with that myth,” he said. “Does not mean that.

He also called for a ceasefire in the city, which the RSF has been attacking since mid-April.

“We see more than a million innocent people dying of hunger due to the RSF siege,” he said. “The bombings have killed people inside hospitals.

“We see 45,000 pregnant women who not only have no real prenatal care, but they don’t even have enough meals a day to be nourished enough for a healthy pregnancy.

“And as bad as it is, it could get worse any day if El Fasher falls, not only because of the horrors that would result from the battle, but also because of the people fleeing.”

The US warning about the fall of El Fasher follows weeks of bloody fighting in the city.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped inside the city, with many suffering from hunger and thirst amid food and water shortages.

The Fasher had been a sanctuary for many who had fled their homes because of the conflict. But now it has become another front line.

Civilians there have reported being hit by shelling and bullets in their homes and even in the hospital.

One of the last health centers still operating is the Sayyid Shuada Health Center.

Footage filmed at the hospital for the BBC shows a distraught mother, too shocked to speak after a bombing hit her home and injured five members of her family.

She held her little boy while her husband and other children received emergency treatment.

The mother said she couldn’t tell if the blood on her little boy’s face was his, his brothers’ or his father’s.

Sayyid Shuada is overwhelmed by the mounting casualties.

“Every day a new wave of injured patients arrives… an average of about 50 a day, which is already what we consider mass casualties,” says Claire Nicolet, who heads the medical charity MSF’s emergency response in Sudan.

There is only one surgeon present in the center who is forced by the situation to work “24 hours a day.”

“Most (patients) need surgery, so it’s quite dramatic,” Nicolet says.

Local community volunteers have formed committees to try to support the hospital. They handle non-medical tasks, such as fetching water and fuel and collecting data.

Volunteer Khalid Abdul Hamid tells the BBC that the committees are collecting donations of cash, goods and services, including from the community already hit by war.

“Through our own efforts and those of sympathizers, we have managed to get some medicines… or cash contributions to buy medicines in the local market,” he said.

The situation is deteriorating day by day and the fighting is leaving an increasing number of facilities out of operation.

On Saturday, RSF fighters stormed the South Hospital, a referral hospital treating civilians injured in the war. Gunmen opened fire and looted the facilities, stealing an ambulance.

The hospital, which was also run by the medical organization MSF, has already been closed.

Its emergency chief, Michel Lacharite, described the attack as scandalous. “Opening fire inside a hospital crosses a line,” he said.

The South hospital had been hit by shelling and bullets at least three times in the 10 days before Saturday’s attack.

A pediatric hospital run by MSF in El Fasher was bombed in Maykilling two children.

The constant shelling in El Fasher has forced tens of thousands to flee once again. Most are heading towards western Sudan and options to find safer places are running out.

“We need this to end,” Perriello said.

“We need cooler heads to prevail and stop this particular battle, and at the same time not take our eyes off other parts of Sudan.”

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