By Mohamed Noureldin
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan's warring military factions agreed to a new and longer seven-day ceasefire from Thursday, neighbour and mediator South Sudan said, even as more air strikes and shooting in the Khartoum capital region undercut their latest supposed truce.
Previous ceasefire pledges have ranged from 24 to 72 hours but there have been constant truce violations in the conflict that erupted in mid-April between the army and a paramilitary force.
South Sudan's foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that mediation championed by its president, Salva Kiir, had led both sides to agree a weeklong truce from Thursday to May 11 and to name envoys for peace talks. The current ceasefire was due to expire on Wednesday.
It was unclear, however, how army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and paramilitary Rapid Support forces (RSF) leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo would proceed.
On Tuesday, witnesses reported more air strikes in the cities of Omdurman and in Bahri, both on the opposite bank of the Nile River from Khartoum.
Al Jazeera television said Sudanese army warplanes were targeting RSF positions, and anti-aircraft fire could be heard from Khartoum.
India's embassy in Khartoum was stormed and looted, Sudan's army said in a statement, citing a report from the ambassador. Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry said early on Wednesday that the building in Khartoum that houses its cultural mission was similarly vandalised and looted by an armed group. No casualties were reported.
Army jets have been bombing RSF units dug into residential districts of the capital region. Conflict has also spread to Sudan's western Darfur region where the RSF emerged from tribal militias that fought alongside government forces to crush rebels in a brutal civil war dating back 20 years.
The commanders of the army and RSF, who had shared power as part of an internationally backed transition towards free elections and civilian government, have shown no sign of backing down, yet neither seems able to secure a quick victory.
REGION AT RISK
Prolonged conflict could draw in outside powers.
Fighting now in its third week has engulfed Khartoum - one of Africa's largest cities - and killed hundreds of people. Sudan's Health Ministry reported on Tuesday that 550 people have died and 4,926 injured.
Foreign governments were winding down evacuation operations that sent thousands of their citizens home. Britain said its last flight would depart Port Sudan on the Red Sea on Wednesday and urged any remaining Britons wanting to leave to make their way there.
The conflict has also created a humanitarian crisis, with around 100,000 people forced to flee with little food or water to neighbouring countries, the United Nations said.
Aid deliveries have been held up in a nation where about one-third of people already relied on humanitarian assistance. A broader disaster could be in the making as Sudan's impoverished neighbours grapple with a refugee influx.
"The entire region could be affected," Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said in a Japanese newspaper interview on Tuesday as a Burhan envoy met Egyptian officials in Cairo.
The U.N. World Food Programme said on Monday it was resuming work in the safer parts of Sudan after a pause earlier in the conflict, in which some of its staff were killed.
Graphic: Sudan's conflict: https://www.reuters.com/graphics/SUDAN-POLITICS/gdvzqjmwrpw/chart.png
'THE SITUATION IS A CALAMITY'
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said it had delivered some aid to the capital from Port Sudan, a road journey of about 800 km (500 miles).
Some 330,000 Sudanese have also been displaced inside Sudan's borders by the war, the U.N. migration agency said.
"The situation is a calamity," Hassan Mohamed Ali, a 55-year-old state employee, said during a stopover in Atbara, 350 km (220 miles) northeast of Khartoum, en route to the Egyptian frontier.
"We suffer from power and water cuts, our children have stopped school. What's happening in Khartoum is hell."
Displaced Sudanese families have also made their way, sometimes on foot under scorching desert sun, hundreds of kilometres (miles) to Chad and South Sudan.
About 800,000 people could eventually leave, according to the U.N.
More than 40,000 people have crossed the border into Egypt over the past two weeks but only after days of delays. Most migrants have had to pay hundreds of dollars to make the 1,000-km (620-mile) journey north from Khartoum.
It took Aisha Ibrahim Dawood and her relatives five days in a rented car to get from Khartoum to the northern town of Wadi Halfa, where the women and children crammed into a back of a truck that brought them to a queue at the Egyptian border.
"Our suffering is unprecedented," she said.
(Reporting by Mohamed Noureldin; Additional reporting by Nafisa Eltahir in Cairo, Emma Farge and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Geneva, Duncan Miriri in Nairobi and Ayenat Mersie in Dollow, Somalia; writing by Angus McDowall, Mark Heinrich and Cynthia Osterman; editing by Nick Macfie, Andrew Cawthorne and Grant McCool)