Sudan's RSF besieges hospital where Omar al-Bashir is being held
Sudan's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) is besieging a strategic military hospital in Omdurman, where former president Omar al-Bashir and some of his aides are believed to be staying, medical sources, eyewitnesses, army officers and activists told Middle East Eye.
For almost three months, Khartoum and the capital's sister city Omdurman, which lies across the White Nile, have been the battleground between the RSF and the Sudanese army. In recent days, the RSF has laid siege on the Alia military medical hospital, the el-Mohandiseen garrison and army units nearby.
In response, army soldiers have been digging trenches and setting up other fortifications, while trying to break the siege through tactics such as intensive air strikes and deployments of special forces.
Fierce battles are being fought across Omdurman, which is strategically important for the RSF as it is one of the main supply routes for the paramilitary forces between Khartoum and its strongholds in western Sudan.
Medical sources say Bakri Hassan Salih, a former general under Bashir, and another of the ex-president's aides are with him in the hospital, alongside senior officers overseeing the defensive operations.
Bashir, who was being held in Khartoum's Kober prison when the war broke out, was quickly moved by the army to Alia hospital at the beginning of the hostilities. In 2019, following a popular uprising, Bashir was deposed as president by the military after 30 years in power, and is wanted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges.
The RSF is also besieging strategic areas around the military hospital, including the chief of staff's headquarters, the el-Mohandiseen garrison and other military locations, sources on the ground told MEE.
A Rapid Support Forces spokesperson said the al-Mohandiseen garrison "is being seized by our forces".
The Sudanese armed forces did not respond to requests for comment.
Alia hospital is located near one of the main bridges linking Omdurman with Khartoum to the east, and is close to the parliament and several military bases.
To the west is 40th Street, the el-Mohandiseen neighbourhood and its garrison, and the district of al-Doha.
Just two kilometres from these neighbourhoods is the Wad al-Bashir bus station, where a large number of RSF forces are camped out.
The Sudanese parliament lies to the north of Alia hospital, as well as Omdurman's main al-Morada street; while to the south, there is the al-Fitaihab neighbourhood, which lies beside another bridge across the White Nile and the RSF's al-Salha base.
The road to al-Salha also leads to southern Khartoum, the RSF Taiba base and the headquarters of the Central Reserve Police, which was recently seized by the paramilitary forces.
Eyewitnesses and Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) sources told MEE that the military has deployed heavily guarded checkpoints on the main roads leading to Alia hospital, but the RSF is trying to circumvent them.
The checkpoints are set up just one or two kilometres from the hospital, with RSF vehicles deployed nearby.
A junior officer in the army told MEE that the military clearly controls the two bridges that link Omdurman with Khartoum, but on the east side of the White Nile the RSF dominates the riverbanks and neighbourhoods leading to the presidential palace.
"This means the RSF is controlling this side, despite the SAF having its hands on the bridges," he told MEE, speaking on condition of anonymity.
He said 40th Street had several SAF checkpoints and trenches between the el-Mohandiseen garrison and the hospital. But the RSF have fighters in the neighbourhood on the south side of the road and immediately opposite the garrison's entrance.
The RSF denied that it was targeting the hospital, saying its chief target is the el-Mohandiseen garrison.
"It is important to note that the base is located a considerable distance away from Alia Hospital," an RSF spokesperson told MEE.
"We emphasise that our operations are not directed toward the hospital, despite the SAF utilising it as military grounds for launching artillery attacks."
However, another RSF source said the paramilitary was indeed besieging the hospital as well as the garrison "because SAF has put heavy cannons in these places and targeted civilians from there, and we want to stop that".
Fighting has been intense around the hospital. An Omdurman resident told MEE that battles were ongoing, including heavy air strikes.
"SAF is only putting barricades in front of the main gate of the el-Mohandiseen garrison and blocking the main road in front of it, but the RSF is controlling the entire el-Mohandiseen neighbourhood opposite to it," a resident of the district told MEE by phone.
"The two sides are still aggressively fighting over this area, as the SAF is using intensive air strikes and also trying to deploy its special forces to expel the RSF," he added.
Very few civilians are still left in the neighbourhood. RSF fighters commonly take over people's houses, looting them and using them as bases. According to the el-Mohandiseen resident, most of the people still left there are supportive of the army, and help identify houses the RSF has taken over to soldiers.
"But despite this, the RSF is still occupying the houses and narrow streets inside the neighbourhood with continuous hit-and-run clashes on a daily basis," he said.
Though the area around the hospital is surrounded, the army has nonetheless secured a secret supply route. One medic, who is now displaced from Sudan, told MEE he used it earlier in the war.
"I was working in the hospital until the war erupted and I forgot some of my important personal belongings, including some documents, and I got inside the hospital and collected them. Bashir and his assistants are still in the hospital and other senior army officers with their families are also there," said the medic.
"With the help of some SAF officers I managed to enter the hospital, as the SAF is securing a secret route."
'Bashir and his assistants are still in the hospital and other senior army officers with their families are also there'
- Medical source
Sudan's war broke out on 15 April over plans to fold the RSF into the regular military. Since the two sides went to war, hundreds have been killed and 2.5 million Sudanese displaced.
A retired senior military officer said that the army would dig in and fight hard to maintain its foothold in the area around Alia hospital.
"I don't expect that the SAF will withdraw. First, because of Bashir. Regardless of any political affiliation, he represents the dignity of the army as he was one of its leaders, so the SAF won't let the militia arrest him by any means. Second, the area itself is strategic because of its location and it's the main military hospital in the capital," the officer said.
According to the retired officer, the RSF is trying to overwhelm the army with a huge number of fighters and vehicles, but the SAF will try and counter it with defensive and offensive moves.
As for Bashir, the officer believes he will be scurried out of harm's way before the RSF can capture him.
"In the end, the SAF can open many corridors to safely move Bashir or any other senior officer from one place to another," he said.