Washington's top diplomat said Tuesday that a U.S. Embassy convoy came under fire in Sudan and denounced "indiscriminate military operations" as the country's armed forces and a powerful rival unleashed heavy weapons in urban areas for a fourth day.
The convoy of clearly marked embassy vehicles was attacked on Monday, and preliminary reports link the assailants to the Rapid Support Forces, the paramilitary group battling Sudan's military, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters. Everyone in the convoy was safe, Blinken said.
The convoy attack in Khartoum, along with earlier assaults on aid workers and the EU envoy's residence in the Sudanese capital, signaled further descent into chaos since the battle by two rival generals for control of Africa's third-largest country erupted over the weekend.
More than 185 people have been killed and more than 1,800 wounded, according to U.N. figures, which did not include a breakdown of civilians and combatants. The Sudan Doctors' Syndicate said Tuesday that at least 144 civilians were killed and more than 1,400 wounded since Saturday.
The overall death toll could be much higher because clashes in Khartoum have prevented the removal of bodies in some areas. The two sides have been using tanks, artillery and other heavy weapons in densely populated areas.
Late Monday, fighter jets swooped overhead and anti-aircraft fire lit up the skies as darkness fell. Fighting resumed early Tuesday around each side's main bases and at strategic government buildings — all of which are in residential areas.
Satellite images from Maxar Technologies taken Monday showed damage across Khartoum, including security service buildings. Tanks stood guard at a bridge over the White Nile River and other locations in the capital.
Satellite images from Planet Labs PBC, also taken Monday, showed some 20 damaged aircraft at Khartoum International Airport, which also has a military side. Some had been completely destroyed, with one still belching smoke. At the El Obeid and Merowe air bases, north and south of Khartoum, several fighter jets were among the destroyed aircraft.
Top diplomats have urged the two rival generals — armed forces chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan and RSF leader Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo — to halt fighting.
The State Department said late Monday that Blinken spoke by phone separately with the two generals.
"I made very clear (in my calls) that any attacks or threats or dangers posed to our diplomats were totally unacceptable," Blinken told reporters at the Group of Seven wealthy nations meeting in Japan on Tuesday,
He appealed for an immediate 24-hour cease-fire, as a foundation for a longer truce and a return to negotiations. "Indiscriminate military operations have resulted in significant deaths and injuries, recklessly endangering civilians, diplomats, including U.S. personnel, and humanitarian personnel," he said.
Dagalo said in a series of tweets Tuesday that he had approved a 24-hour humanitarian truce after speaking to Blinken while the Sudanese military said more troops would join the battle and that it would "widen the scope of its operations" against the RSF.
Burhan and Dagalo, former allies who jointly orchestrated an October 2021 coup, have dug in, demanding the other's surrender. The violence has raised the specter of civil war just as Sudanese were trying to revive the drive for a democratic, civilian government after decades of military rule.
The Sudanese military blamed the RSF, which grew out of the notorious Janjaweed militias in Sudan's Darfur region, for the attack on the U.S. convoy and an earlier assault on the home of the EU envoy in Khartoum.
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell tweeted Monday that the EU ambassador to Sudan "was assaulted in his own residency," without providing further details.
The RSF denied involvement in the attack on the ambassador's home, instead blaming the military. However, a Western diplomat in Cairo said the residence was ransacked by armed men in RSF uniforms. No one was hurt but the armed men stole several items, said the diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to talk to media.
Under international pressure, Burhan and Dagalo had recently agreed to a framework agreement with political parties and pro-democracy groups, but the signing was repeatedly delayed as tensions rose over the integration of the RSF into the armed forces and the future chain of command.
Both generals have a long history of human rights abuses and their forces have cracked down on pro-democracy activists.
Only four years ago, Sudan inspired hope after a popular uprising helped depose long-time autocratic leader Omar al-Bashir.
But the turmoil since, especially the 2021 coup, has frustrated the democracy drive and wrecked the economy. A third of the population — around 16 million people — now depends on humanitarian assistance in the resource-rich nation.