AN EVACUATION plane rescuing civilians from war-torn Sudan came under fire by paramilitaries – piercing the aircraft's fuel tank and injuring one of the crew.
The Turkish C-130 transport plane was allegedly shot at by militia fighters as it came in to land at the Brit-controlled Wadi Sayedna airfield some 14 miles north of Khartoum.
The plane managed to land safely at around 7.25am local time and it is now undergoing repairs as the massive international evacuation continues.
Sudan's army claimed rebel forces are working to "obstruct evacuation efforts with such dangerous behavior" – even as the fragile ceasefire was extended last night by another 72 hours.
It appears to be the first time a foreign evacuation plane has been damaged by the fighting since the massive airlift began to extract foreigners from war-torn Sudan.
And the incident highlights the jeopardy facing the mission – with hundreds, if not thousands, of Brits still trapped as some 900 have so far been extracted.
READ MORE ON WORLD NEWS
Hero Brit commandos pluck kids to safety as air strikes pound war-torn Sudan
Footage shows horror of Russian missile strike that killed 6 in Ukraine
It comes as Foreign Secretary James Cleverly urged all UK nationals wishing to flee Sudan to come forward "as quickly as possible".
The evacuation was potentially bought more time when the rival generals made the deal as the midnight deadline for the resumption of fierce fighting loomed.
Flights were scheduled to continue regardless but intensified clashes would add extra pressure to the operation and Mr Cleverly had warned that the mission could become "impossible".
Brits however still face a gauntlet of chaos as they attempt to reach the airfield.
Most read in The Sun
I'll answer call to be Minister for Abolishing Wokery with my 20-point plan
Body of fiancé accused of murdering pregnant teacher girlfriend found in lake
Jodie Marsh’s £1m farm raided by RSPCA after she took MEERKAT to pub
Legendary talk show host Jerry Springer dies peacefully in his home aged 79
There are reports of snipers on the streets, resumed air strikes and chronic fuel shortages which is hampering the efforts of Brits to escape.
Evacuation flights using Hercules and Atlas military transport planes are running a loop from Khartoum to Cyprus.
Royal Navy commandos and SAS special forces are on the ground helping to secure the airfield and will protect the base if it comes under attack.
Some 1,400 Brit servicemen are involved in the Sudan evacuation mission which has been described as even more difficult than the frantic escape from Afghanistan's capital Kabul in 2021.
However, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces joined the Sudanese military in agreeing to extend the 72-hour truce that has seen fighting lull to allow citizens and foreign nationals to flee.
Mr Cleverly said: "The UK calls for its full implementation by the generals.
"British evacuation flights are ongoing.
"I urge all British nationals wishing to leave to proceed to the airport as quickly as possible to ensure their safety."
Britain had been urging the rival generals to extend the ceasefire, which should help stave off a feared humanitarian crisis in Africa's third largest country.
More than 2,000 British nationals in Sudan have registered under the evacuation plans but the true number of citizens there could be far higher.
As of 4pm on Thursday, the Foreign Office said that 897 people had been evacuated over eight RAF airlifts.
The Foreign Office, which has not said how many of the evacuees are Britons or foreign nationals, had been urging citizens to head to the airstrip before the ceasefire ended.
The flights were however scheduled to run past midnight and around 1,000 people are expected to have been lifted to safety by Friday morning.
Military chiefs say they have the capacity to fly at least 500 people per day out of the Wadi Saeedna airfield, north of Khartoum.
Earlier in the day, Mr Cleverly warned that resumption of fighting could jeopardise the evacuation efforts.
"We cannot predict exactly what will happen when that ceasefire ends, but what we do know is it will be much, much harder, potentially impossible," he told Sky News.
"So, what we're saying to British nationals is if you're hesitant, if you're weighing up your options, our strong, strong advice is to go through Wadi Saeedna whilst the ceasefire is up and running.
"There are planes, there is capacity, we will lift you out. I'm not able to make those same assurances once a ceasefire has ended."
UK passport holders have been told to make their own way to the airfield and are not being provided with a military escort.
Downing Street rejected calls from people, including Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Alicia Keans, to widen the eligibility for evacuation beyond British passport holders and their immediate family.
But the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "There is an element of discretion for people on the ground as you might expect, given the circumstances and the challenging situation people will be facing.
"We recognise these are very challenging circumstances and, as we have done on previous occasions, we obviously empower people on the ground to make decisions."
British ambassador to Sudan Giles Lever had been speaking to the warring parties – the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces – to try to get a ceasefire extension.
The diplomat, who was not in Sudan when the fighting broke out, was being relocated from London to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to play a key role in efforts to end the fighting.
Africa minister Andrew Mitchell warned that an end to the ceasefire could result in a humanitarian catastrophe in Sudan.
"It is essential that a ceasefire is maintained and that a political process is secured," he told the foreign affairs think tank Chatham House.
"If not, the humanitarian consequences will be incalculable."
SAS troops evacuated UK diplomatic officials on Sunday in a daring rescue mission.
And then the wider evacuation was launched during a ceasefire brokered between the warring factions.
Only British passport holders and immediate family members with existing UK entry clearance are being told they are eligible for evacuation.
The Government is working to provide other routes out of Sudan, with HMS Lancaster progressing towards Port Sudan, the Red Sea dock some 500 miles from Khartoum that could possibly be used in a seaborne operation.
But with UK nationals being told to make their own way to evacuation sites, that trip would be made particularly challenging by fuel shortages and the traffic of people fleeing.
People arriving at London Stansted Airport on the first evacuation flight were reunited with loved ones in emotional scenes.
Women with small children and babies in prams, as well as elderly individuals in wheelchairs were among those met by family members and friends waiting anxiously in the arrivals lounge.
One man from Sudan, who did not give his name, described his experience as a "nightmare".
Speaking outside the airport, he said: "It's absolutely fantastic to be back. It's been a nightmare. We've never seen anything like it before.
"We saw it on the television before but we never thought it was going to happen to a peaceful country like Sudan.
"Khartoum is like a ghost city, everyone is leaving Khartoum now.
"We are very grateful to the British servicemen and women who risked their lives to come to Sudan and help us out."
The country has been rocked by two weeks days of urban combat which has killed more than 400, wounded thousands, and sparked a mass exodus of foreigners.
The United States and European, Middle Eastern, African and Asian nations launched emergency missions to bring to safety their embassy staff and Sudan-based citizens by road, air and sea.
But millions of Sudanese are unable to flee what is one of the world's poorest countries, with a history of military coups.
They are trying to survive acute shortages of water, food, medicine and fuel as well as power and internet blackouts.
The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) agreed to the ceasefire "following intense negotiations", Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement shortly before the truce took effect last night.
Previous bids to pause the conflict failed to take hold, but both sides confirmed they had agreed to the three-day halt.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned earlier that Sudan was on "the edge of the abyss" and that the violence "could engulf the whole region and beyond".
The fighting has pitted forces loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan against those of his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the RSF.
With Khartoum airport disabled after battles that left charred aircraft on the tarmac, many foreigners were airlifted from smaller airstrips to countries including Djibouti and Jordan.
More than a dozen passenger jets were damaged on the tarmac when clashes erupted at the commercial airport.
Experts have long drawn links between the RSF and Russian mercenary group Wagner. Blinken earlier on Monday voiced "deep concern" that Wagner risked aggravating the war in Sudan.
The military toppled Bashir in April 2019 following mass citizen protests that raised hopes for a transition to democracy.
The two generals seized power in the 2021 coup, but later fell out, most recently over the planned integration of the RSF into the regular army.
Those Sudanese who can afford to are also fleeing Khartoum on crowded buses for the more than 900-kilometre desert drive north to Egypt.
Among the 800,000 South Sudanese refugees who previously fled civil war in their own country, some are choosing to return, with women and children crossing the border, said the UN refugee agency.
Source: Read Full Article