MOGADISHU, Somalia Feb 25 (Garowe Online) -
Battles between African Union-backed government forces and Islamist rebels continued into the second day Wednesday, as rebel chief Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys vowed to continue the war, Radio Garowe reports.
At least 35 people have been killed and more than 130 others wounded in the most intense fighting seen in Mogadishu since Ethiopian troops withdrew a month ago.
Many civilians were killed after shells hit homes in areas far away from the fighting, as AMISOM peacekeepers and Somali government forces defended against attacks initiated by Islamist insurgents.
Mogadishu's Hodan district was worst hit by the violence, witnesses said. Hundreds of residents had fled the district during the two-year insurgency against Ethiopian forces.
"We will return to the place we fled [before], because we did not expect more war," said resident Muhubo Omar, the mother of six children.
Hospital officials in Mogadishu reported a total number of 130 wounded victims, with that number growing by the hour.
The Party of Islam, a coalition of Islamist factions, was leading the war campaign alongside guerrillas loyal to Al Shabaab, considered a terror group by the U.S. government.
Business at Bakara Market, Somalia's largest marketplace, remained closed for a second straight day as roads leading to the market were inaccessible due to the violence.
Sheikh Abdi Umal, a Somali Kenyan cleric currently in Mogadishu for reconciliation efforts led by prominent sheikhs, condemned the fighting as "without cause."
A group of Somali sheikhs and a six-member delegation from the Islamic world council, dispatched by Egypt's Sheikh Yusuf Al Qardawi, are in Mogadishu holding talks to avert the war, which is increasingly turning former allies into new enemies.
The Somali Islamic council, led by Sheikh Bashir Ahmed Salad, had previously issued a fatwa calling on Islamist factions to halt the war and allow AMISOM peacekeepers to withdraw from Somalia within a period of 120 days.
Sheikh Aweys, formerly legislative head of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), told Al Jazeera TV from his base in Eritrea that the fighting will continue until AMISOM troops leave Somalia.
"They [AMISOM] are the enemy of the Somali people," Sheikh Aweys said, while urging Islamist insurgents to continue to war.
He condemned Somalia's new government, saying that it was established by the West to 'weaken the muqawama,' a reference to the Islamist insurgency.
Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a former ICU executive chief, is now the new president of Somalia's UN-backed 'unity government' and its Islamist-dominated Cabinet.
Further Sheikh Aweys distanced his group, Party of Islam, from the recent fatwa issued by the Islamic clerics, saying: "The sheikhs tried but they should not issue a fatwa on the war, which is defensive. Every person will use medicine to fight a disease."
Yusuf Mohamed Siad, known popularly as 'Indha Ade' (White Eyes), told the BBC Somali Service that he has resigned as the military chief of the Party of Islam.
Indha Ade, the notorious ex-warlord of Lower Shabelle region and the ICU's former defense chief, said his group had accepted the decision of the Islamic clerics not to attack AMISOM.
"I recently resigned as the military leader of the Party of Islam, and I am not involved in the fighting," Indha Ade said.
He stated that he has been a long time friend of new President Sheikh Sharif but urged the new leader to clearly express his position to the muqawama.
"I want to state that the people of Mogadishu do not deserve to be shelled while they are returning," Indha Ade said, while referring to civilians returning to their homes with the hope that the anti-government insurgency will stop.
Mogadishu has been the epicenter of Somalia's 18-year conflict. The UN-backed 'unity government' is the international community's 15th attempt to restore national order.
Upwards of 16,000 people were killed during the two-year Islamist insurgency against Ethiopian troops, which displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians from their Mogadishu homes.
Source: Garowe Online