Foreign powers rescue nationals while Sudanese must fend for themselves as deadly fighting continues

Foreign powers have rescued embassy staff and nationals caught in Sudan's deadly fighting, even as on the ground many Sudanese are stuck in deteriorating conditions.

The United Kingdom said it had managed to pull its diplomatic staff out of the country on Sunday, with several other European nations scrambling to do the same.

US special forces helped bring almost 100 people -- mostly US embassy staff, as well as a small number of diplomatic professionals from other countries -- to safety on Saturday, US officials said.

Egypt told its citizens outside of Khartoum to prepare for withdrawal, while urging those in the capital to stay put.

Evacuations have been complicated by ongoing clashes. The two sides at the center of more than a week of fighting -- Sudan's army and a paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) -- blamed each other after a French evacuation convoy came under fire trying to leave Sudan. A French national was injured.

One staff member of the Egyptian embassy in Sudan was also shot and injured during an evacuation operation, Cairo's foreign ministry said.

The flurry of operations came on the ninth day of clashes in Khartoum.

Sudan's military leader, Gen. Abdul Fattah al-Burhan, and commander of the RSF, Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, seized control of the country in a military coup in 2021 and were due to hand over power to a civilian government but turned on each other instead.

More than 420 people have been killed and 3,700 injured in the fighting, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The humanitarian situation on the ground is deteriorating without access to medical services, and with many left stranded without food or water.

With the main international airport still shuttered, many Sudanese civilians are either trapped in their homes or scrambling to find exit routes out of the country via its land borders -- a complex and dangerous feat amid limited internet access.

A series of ceasefires, including the latest called for the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr, have been broken.

Residents in parts of Khartoum told CNN early on Sunday morning that there were no signs that the cessation of hostilities was being adhered to, as they awoke to aerial attacks, heavy artillery, explosions and gunfire. They relayed that clashes were raging around the military headquarters and presidential palace in the city center.

'Complex and rapid' operations

Despite the flare in fighting and steep risks, foreign governments continue to announce rescue missions and plans to pull their citizens out.

The United Kingdom completed a "complex and rapid" evacuation of British diplomats and their families amid "threats to embassy staff," Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Sunday.

France's foreign ministry said a "rapid evacuation operation" of diplomatic personnel and French citizens from Sudan was being coordinated with its European and allied partner nations. The Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and Germany said they were in the midst of multiple operations.

Meanwhile, Sweden's parliament, the Riksdag, gave the go-ahead for up to 400 soldiers to help carry out an evacuation from Sudan of Swedish and foreign citizens. And Spain was working "intensely" to get a landing slot for planes to safely evacuate Spanish citizens from Sudan, a government source told CNN Sunday.

Egypt urged their national citizens outside Khartoum "to go to the nearest point to them in preparation for their evacuation by the competent Egyptian authorities," according to a statement from the Egyptian ministry of foreign affairs, reported by state-media Middle East News Agency (MENA).

Turkey delayed its evacuation efforts Sunday, warning citizens not to gather at designated assembly points that it planned to use due to "violent explosions" that have taken place nearby.

US citizens in Sudan were advised they could join evacuation convoys organized by the United Arab Emirates and Turkey early on Sunday morning, provided they brought their own vehicles, according to a State Department consular affairs email seen by CNN. The message made clear that Americans would be joining the convoys at their own risk. There are an estimated 16,000 American citizens in Sudan -- most of whom are dual nationals.

CNN has reached out to the State Department for comment.

Smoke rises over Khartoum on Saturday. The fighting in Sudan's capital between the Sudanese army and Rapid Support Forces resumed after an internationally brokered cease-fire failed.
Smoke rises over Khartoum on Saturday. The fighting in Sudan's capital between the Sudanese army and Rapid Support Forces resumed after an internationally brokered cease-fire failed. Photo credit: Marwan Ali/AP

'Stay and risk starvation, or be killed by a stray bullet'

While foreign governments rush to withdraw their citizens and staff, millions of Sudanese citizens have been left to fend for themselves -- stranded for days in their homes and uncertain of how to make their way out to safety.

Isma'il Kushkush, a Sudanese-American journalist based in Khartoum, was trapped with 29 residents, including children and foreign nationals, in a building in downtown Khartoum near the presidential palace for days.

"No power or water for five days. Using little water remaining in water tank. Running out of food rations. Unable to leave the building which is located two blocks from the presidential palace. Epicenter of the fighting since the conflict began," he said in a string of text messages to CNN. The group was later safely evacuated.

In neighborhood WhatsApp group chats and on social media, others were deliberating over where to get water, to charge phones, find medics and find safe passages out of Khartoum free of fighting. Many asked for advice on routes to Egypt on public transportation.

A woman in her 30s, who asked not to be named for security reasons, told CNN that she managed to flee Khartoum by bus to Egypt.

She said she was driven to do so by the unpredictability of the RSF and the worsening conditions in the capital.

While her family had a generator and they were able to supply water to houses in their neighborhood, it was unclear how long they would be able to carry on or when the tide of clashes might bring fighters to their doorstep.

"It was a case of do we stay and risk starvation. Or be killed by a stray bullet? ... We decided to take the risk," she said, adding that she had heard of people without food and water dying in their homes. "We just figured we were sitting ducks sheltering in our houses."

A group of her relatives, including two babies and an elderly woman with a serious medical condition, found a bus driver willing to take them to Egypt. They left Friday morning and arrived at the border on Saturday evening; the group was only stopped once by Sudan's armed forces in Omdurman, she said. But they struggled to get men without visas into Egypt and a few people without passports -- including newborn babies -- were turned away.

"They had to be left behind. And we're still trying to work out how to get them paperwork to get them across the border," she said.