Vicious fighting has broken out again in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, killing and wounding dozens of civilians. The violence was the latest in a series of battles between militias loyal to the Islamic courts and militias belonging to an anti-terror coalition of secular factional leaders and businessmen. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu is the only Western journalist in Mogadishu and reports that as much as 95 percent of the city may be under the control of the Islamic courts.
The fighting began early in the morning, with anti-terror coalition militias firing the first volley.
The coalition offensive was apparently aimed at trying to regain control of some neighborhoods lost to Islamic courts' militias earlier this month in the north of the city.
Despite having heavier guns, coalition militias were unable to dislodge the Islamic militias. After several hours of fighting, coalition fighters found themselves on the defensive, retreating into central Mogadishu.
An intense battle soon began raging around the Sahafi Hotel, which had been the headquarters for the anti-terror group since it was formed in February.
Bullets ricocheted off walls and mortar shells exploded in the streets, sending residents scurrying for cover. Some residents ignored the danger to help load injured people into trucks and wheelbarrows. They were rushed to nearby Madina Hospital, where VOA saw an overwhelmed staff of doctors and nurses working feverishly to patch up gunshot and shrapnel wounds and perform life-saving surgeries.
The director of the hospital, Sheikhdon Salat, says even the facility was being hit by stray mortars and bullets.
"The bullets are crossing all over the hospital and we are in danger. All of us are in danger. We are in the battle zone," he said.
By mid-afternoon, Islamic militias occupied the Sahafi Hotel and appeared to be in control of most areas of Mogadishu.
The anti-terror coalition is made up of powerful Mogadishu-based factional leaders and businessmen, who say they have joined America's fight against terrorism. The coalition says the Islamic courts are made up of extremists, who are allied with al-Qaida terrorists and are providing safe havens for them in Somalia.
Leaders of the Islamic courts say they are only trying to help Somalia recover from the devastation it suffered at the hands of the factional leaders since the country disintegrated into lawlessness in 1991. The court leaders accuse the anti-terror group of receiving support from the United States, an accusation the coalition and the United States deny.