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Government Forces Strike Back at Insurgents in Somali Capital

Somali government forces have launched a counter attack against Islamist insurgents in the capital, Mogadishu. The move seems to be an attempt to regain the initiative from the insurgents, who launched their most sustained attack on the government two weeks ago.

A relative lull in fighting between Islamist insurgents and pro-government forces in the capital, Mogadishu, came to an end before dawn Friday. Government soldiers launched attacks on insurgent positions in multiple areas of the city, sparking exchanges of shelling and gunfire.

At least three people have been killed in the clashes, including a journalist for the local Shabelle radio station.

A Somalia military spokesman, Farhan Mahdi, said the offensive targeted those responsible for the violence that has wracked the capital for the past two weeks.

Mahdi said the operation intends to remove enemy forces from residential areas of the capital. Fighting is ongoing in many parts of Mogadishu, he said, and government forces have retaken several locations in the city.

The offensive appears to be an attempt by the government to regain ground it lost during the offensive begun two weeks ago by insurgents from the al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam militias. Residents have reported that government forces have retaken control of one of the city's key roads, among other locations. Al-Shabab has denied that it has lost any positions.

Over 100 people have been killed in the latest round of fighting, and the United Nations says more than 46,000 have been displaced from their homes in the capital. Hundreds of thousands more are already displaced from previous clashes.

The East African regional bloc IGAD called this week for a blockade of ports controlled by insurgents and a no-fly zone to prevent arms from reaching the government's opponents. The group also called for sanctions on Eritrea, which the Somali government has accused of sending arms to the insurgents. Eritrea, which withdrew from IGAD in 2007, has denied the allegations.

Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a moderate Islamist and a former insurgent leader, took office in January after his faction of the opposition signed an agreement with the government. He has tried to negotiate with the Islamist insurgents and his government has approved the introduction of Islamic law in the country. But insurgent attacks have continued, and the government now says negotiations with al-Shabab are unlikely.

Other parts of the country have also seen fighting in recent days. Local media reported that at least four people were killed in clashes between insurgents and members of a pro-government Islamist militia in the town of Mahaday, north of Mogadishu, on Thursday. Al-Shabab took control of the town from pro-government forces last week.

There have also been clashes near Beledweyne, in central Somalia, near the border with Ethiopia. Residents have reported that Ethiopian troops, who left Somalia at the beginning of the year, have crossed back into the country, though Somali and Ethiopian officials have denied this.