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Eid Comes to a Bullet-Riddled Sudan

FILE: In an earlier time before the conflict now tearing Sudan apart, people ride on a bus as they return to their families ahead of the Eid al-Adha festival in Khartoum, on Sept. 11, 2016.

KHARTOUM — Hundreds gathered in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, Wednesday to pray for peace on the first day of the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday, but gunfire shattered the brief respite, residents said.

With millions trapped in the embattled Sudan capital still rationing electricity and water in the oppressive heat, families struggled to conjure up holiday cheer for Eid al-Adha.

Witnesses in the capital's twin city of Omdurman late Wednesday reported air strikes and anti-aircraft fire, despite separate unilateral truces announced by the two warring generals for the holiday.

Omar Ibrahim, who lives with his three children in Khartoum's Shambat district, said the rituals of Eid have become an "unattainable dream."

"Will the guns be silent for Eid?" asked Ibrahim.

"The country can't take any more of this," Khartoum resident Kazem Abdel Baqi told AFP on Wednesday.

"We pray to God to make our country safe and secure," Baqi said, rejecting Sudan army leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan's call to arms, after the early morning Azan that rang in the three-day festival, normally a highlight of the year for Sudanese.

In neat rows in an empty courtyard, men in white and women in brightly coloured outfits gathered to pray, embracing and wishing each other well in a rare moment of respite from more than 10 weeks of relentless gunshots, air strikes and artillery fire that have reduced civilians' homes to rubble.

Similar prayer gatherings took place outside Khartoum, including in Jazira region where many have fled from the capital.

The RSF and the army battled for control of Khartoum on multiple fronts this week, with paramilitaries seizing the capital's main police base and attacking military bases across the city.

In both Khartoum and the western region of Darfur, where most of the violence has occurred, bodies have been left in the streets.

Nearly 2,800 people have been killed and more than 2.8 million displaced in the war between army chief al-Burhan and his deputy-turned-rival Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Al-Burhan on Tuesday called for Sudanese "youth and all those able to defend" to take up arms with the military. His appeal echoed one from the defence ministry last month, and has been widely rejected by civilians.

In his Eid address urging the youth to defend Sudan, al-Burhan called the RSF "an existential threat" to the state.

Khartoum resident Ahmed al-Fateh said he was "against al-Burhan's call to tell the youth to take up arms and fight with the army."

"The youth have never fought before, and could do more harm than good," he told AFP.

On Twitter, researcher Hamid Khalafallah called al-Burhan's address "very irresponsible", given fears that what began as a power struggle between generals is spiraling into civil conflict.

While Eid begins, the stream of refugees exiting Sudan continues.

Since April, more than 170,000 people have fled Darfur into neighbouring Chad, according to UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency.

A total of almost 645,000 people have sought refuge outside Sudan, according to the latest International Organization for Migration data, with around 2.2 million more displaced within the country.

According to Laura Lo Castro, UNHCR's representative in Chad, "every 30 seconds, five (Sudanese) families cross the border into Chad through Adre town."

The United Nations mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) marked the coming of Eid by saying "May Eid al-Adha be a reminder that the violence must stop," reminding warring parties that "accountability for crimes committed during wartime will be pursued."