(Reuters) -At least 40 civilians were killed and dozens injured in an air strike by the army on a market in southern Khartoum, a local volunteer group said in a statement on Sunday, marking the largest single-incident death toll since the war in Sudan began in April.
Air and artillery strikes in residential areas have intensified as the war between the Sudanese army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) nears the five-month mark with neither side declaring victory or showing any concrete signs of pursuing mediation.
Drones carried out a series of heavy air strikes on Sunday morning on southern Khartoum, a large district of the city occupied mainly by the RSF, an eyewitness who saw the strike told Reuters, asking not to be identified for security reasons.
Images shared by a body of local volunteers called the Southern Khartoum Emergency Room showed many women and men injured as well as what appeared to be dead bodies covered in cloth, some piled together.
Residents of the area tend to be day workers who, cut off from jobs, are too poor to afford the cost of escaping from the capital.
Mohamed Abdallah, a spokesman for the Emergency Room, which tries to provide medical and other services, said the injured had to be transported on rickshaws or donkey carts.
In a statement, the RSF accused the Sudanese army of carrying out the attack, as well as other strikes. The Sudanese army denied responsibility and blamed the RSF.
"We only aim our attacks at the enemy's groupings and stations in different areas," Brigadier General Nabil Abdallah told Reuters.
While the RSF has fanned out across residential areas throughout the capital Khartoum and neighbouring Bahri and Omdurman, the army has used its advantage of heavy artillery and air strikes to try to push them back, resulting in hundreds of civilian casualties.
Strikes in western Omdurman last week killed at least 51 people across two separate days. With most hospitals closed and no functioning local government, volunteers struggle to document the full extent of deaths.
Medical aid agency MSF, which operates Bashair hospital in southern Khartoum, said on social media network X that the crowded Gorro market was hit at 7 am, and that at least 60 people were wounded. Doctors had stopped trying to count as they operated on torn body parts.
"Khartoum has been at war for almost six months. But still, the volunteers ... are shocked and overwhelmed by the scale of horror that struck the city today," emergency coordinator Marie Burton said.
On Friday, the Southern Khartoum emergency room said in a statement that the hospital, one of few still operating, was threatened with closure as supplies run out and staff struggle to reach it.
The army and Rapid Support Forces began fighting on April 15, after tensions arose over integration of their troops in a new transition to democracy. While several countries have launched mediation efforts, none has succeeded in bringing a halt to the fighting.
(Reporting by Nafisa Eltahir and Khalid AbdelazizEditing by Hugh Lawson and Peter Graff)