- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Insurgents shot an Ethiopian helicopter gunship out of the sky and mortar shells slammed into a hospital yesterday during the heaviest fighting in the Somali capital since the early 1990s, leaving corpses in the streets and wounding hundreds of civilians.

By official count 30 persons have been killed since Thursday. But the fighting was so severe and so widespread in Mogadishu that bodies were not being picked up or even tallied, and residents said hundreds more were thought dead across the city of 1 million people.

The violence came on the second day of an offensive in the capital by Somali government troops and their Ethiopian allies to quash an increasingly lethal insurgency. The insurgents are linked to the Council of Islamic Courts, which was driven from power in December by Somali and Ethiopian soldiers.

The exact number of casualties was not clear due to the chaos. Hospitals were overwhelmed and bodies were scattered in the streets.

Insurgents were firing mortars from residential areas of the city, and Ethiopian troops responded with barrages of heavy artillery. The attacks occurred across the flat seaside capital, and huge plumes of smoke rose into the air.

An Associated Press reporter saw an anti-aircraft missile hit an Ethiopian helicopter that had been bombing insurgent positions.

Dr. Mohamed Dhere, who spoke to the AP by telephone from an underground room, said three mortar shells hit Alhayat Hospital, wounding a doctor and a staff member.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said dozens of people have been killed since Thursday and more than 220 wounded, most of them civilians with bullet, grenade and other shrapnel wounds.

Islamic militants — who now dominate the insurgency — stockpiled thousands of tons of weapons and ammunition during the six months they controlled Mogadishu. The insurgency will likely last until that stockpile is depleted, or key leaders are killed.

Somalia has been mired in chaos since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another.

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