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Families urged to flee Somali capital

Fifty people have been killed and nearly 150 wounded in fighting on Wednesday and  Thursday as Islamist rebels try to advance into government-held territory, officials say. Today at least two more people were killed in fighting and at least six were wounded, emergency officials said.

The fighting is expected to get worse in coming weeks after the government launches a long-awaited offensive against the Islamist insurgents.Yesterday rebels moved to as close as 1 mile from the government-held area, but have since been pushed back. Mayor Abdurisaq Mohamed Nor told families living in the capital to move away from battle zones. In Mogadishu, people are often caught in crossfire or are hit by off-target weapons.  "The ongoing fighting is not part of our planned major offensive, but there is possibility that it can follow, we urge the civilians to flee from the battle zones," said Mr Nor. "This time your suffering will not last much longer. We will finish the rebels off."

About half of the city’s people have already fled after two decades of conflict. Those left are mostly too poor to move or fear being attacked as they leave. To make their situation worse, at the start of the year, Islamist groups made a series of demands that caused the United Nations' World Food Program to pull out of much of southern Somalia. Soon families fleeing into the countryside may find nothing to eat. "Some 200 insurgents aboard 12 vehicles mounted with machine guns came to our district and started to move towards the presidential palace," said Mohamed Abdi Haji who lives in Mogadishu's northern Wardhigley area. "Government soldiers and AU peacekeepers bombed them with heavy artillery and forced them to retreat," he told the BBC.

Some of those leaving have said many of their relatives and neighbours are trapped in the war zone. "My husband and six of my relatives and some of my neighbours are trapped inside their homes in north Mogadishu's Abdulasiz district by landing mortars and bullets flying everywhere," said Dahabo Duhulow, a mother of six. Adow Yusuf Da'ud said he had walked three hours through dangerous streets and alleyways to escape the fighting. "During the day and during the night, the shells were raining down into our residences," Mr Da'ud said. "My oldest son is still there to take care of the house."

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children