122 killed in Somali battle

Secular fighters and Islamic extremists traded artillery and mortar fire in Somalia's capital overnight, despite mediators' efforts to broker a cease-fire in fighting that has left at least 122 people dead.

Most of the victims have been civilians caught in the crossfire. Mogadishu residents were fleeing Thursday amid fears the fighting will get much worse in a country that has known little but violence and chaos for more than a decade.

“The fighting continues killing our brothers and sisters in front of us, so we decided to leave the city rather than watching them in a pool of blood,” said Khasim Siidow, a father of eight children, who was on minibus to Wanlaweyn, 90 kilometres southwest of Mogadishu.

Fighting has escalated steadily since Sunday, when the extremists, who have alleged ties to al-Qaeda, tried to capture a strategic road through northern Mogadishu from the warlords, who are linked to the United States.

Both sides have been squaring off for a major battle for control of the city in recent weeks. This latest fighting appeared to be only the beginning. Militias in other parts of the city have not joined in the fighting yet, but they continue to man their defences and tensions are rising.

The battle between the Islamic Court Union and the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism has centred on the northern neighbourhood of Sii-Sii, with neither side gaining an advantage. While the alliance has held the road through Sii-Sii, the courts have controlled the neighbourhoods on either side.

Medical officials reported that 26 people died in the fighting since nightfall Wednesday. Most of the victims have been civilians caught in the crossfire. More than 200 people have been wounded in the fighting, doctors have said.

Twelve shells missed their target overnight, landing on civilian homes far from the fighting, witnesses said.

“In one event, seven people of the same family — including three children — died when a mortar hit their house in Huriwaa district,” Dayah Idiris, the victims' neighbour, told the Associated Press, reports the AP.

I.L.