Somalia's president marked the beginning of Ramadan Saturday by calling for a truce with Islamic militants and talks to end the country's bloodshed.

President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed told VOA Saturday he believes peace and stability are attainable through dialogue, and he called on militants to lay down their weapons.

Somalia's fragile transitional government is engaged in a fierce battle to regain large parts of the country from Islamist militants led by the al-Shabab group.

In the capital of Mogadishu, heavy fighting between government forces and insurgents has killed at least 100 people since Thursday, many of them civilians.

Residents in the capital and other strategic towns have been have been caught in clashes that include intense firefights and mortar attacks.

In recent days, the Somali government and pro-government militias have regained control of two towns, Luuq and Bulahawa, both located in the southern portion of Somalia near the Ethiopian border.  But insurgents managed to repel a government offensive in the town of Bula Burte, about 200 kilometers north of the capital.

The insurgents are trying to overthrow the moderate Islamic government and replace it with a hardline government that will impose strict Islamic law.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.