MOGADISHU, Somalia (CNN) — Neighborhoods in the Somali capital were deserted on Sunday, a day after 17 civilians were brutally killed in the wake of intense fighting between Ethiopian-backed Somali troops and Islamic insurgents, according to witnesses and journalists in Mogadishu.
Witnesses in Mogadishu’s al-Baraka neighborhood said the dead included women, the elderly and children as young as 10.
They said all 17 killed were all non-combatants, and blamed the deaths on Ethiopian troops, who are backing interim Somali forces in an attempt to quell an Islamist-led insurgency.
CNN has been unable to reach the Ethiopian military or members of the Somali transitional government for their response.
Residents in Mogadishu accuse the Ethiopian forces of targeting civilians in revenge for the killings of its troops.
Witnesses and journalists in the city also say Ethiopian and Somali forces are indiscriminately shooting at anyone, fearing no consequences from the weak government in Mogadishu.
Bakara market — Mogadishu’s largest public market — remained all but deserted Sunday a day after the Ethiopian-backed Somali forces occupied the streets surrounding the bazaar.
The Somali forces scared off traders after firing shots in the air, witnesses said.
The situation had calmed by Sunday, but there were reports of sporadic fighting.
Up to 100,000 people have abandoned the capital in the last two weeks, according to United Nations estimates.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned Friday of a growing humanitarian crisis in Somalia and said 1.5 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance, a rise of 50 percent since the start of the year.
According to witnesses, the 17 bodies found Saturday in al-Baraka had bullet wounds to the head and chest. Some were heavily bruised and appeared to have been beaten and had their hands tied together, witnesses said.
Photographs seen by CNN showed crowds standing over the blood-spattered bodies of young men in civilian clothes lying in a dusty street. Some had been covered with a loose piece of garment, but their faces were still showing.
In a separate incident, five children — between ages 1 and 7 — were injured after a shell from an Ethiopian tank smashed into their family home in the same neighborhood, the children’s father Aweys Ali Abukar said.
According to Abukar, the shell hit the building as the family was sitting down to breakfast Saturday morning. He said the youngest child was in a serious condition in hospital after the family was struck by falling debris and shrapnel.
According to local media estimates, 60 to 80 people have been killed since Ethiopian troops launched reprisals after the body of one their soldiers was dragged through the streets by an angry mob Thursday.
In a brutal echo of a 1993 battle between Somali militias and U.S. troops, crowds shouting “God is great” dragged the bruised, bullet-riddled corpse of the Ethiopian soldier through the dusty Mogadishu neighborhood of Suqa Holaha after it was dumped there by insurgents Thursday afternoon.
Ethiopian tanks and artillery have rained down missile and mortar fire on insurgent strongholds in the city, but witnesses said that many of the dead and injured were civilians caught up in the fighting.
Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia in December 2006 to drive the Islamic Courts Union out of Mogadishu and restore a U.N.-backed transitional government after a decade and a half of near-anarchy.
The Islamists responded by launching an insurgency against Somali government and Ethiopian troops that has lasted nearly a year.
Residents say they are a target of the Ethiopian military who want revenge. “All young men run away whenever they set eyes on Ethiopians in uniform,” one woman said, who did not wish to be named.
The bodies of two brothers, aged 30 and 13, were discovered Tuesday in the Gubta settlement following a raid by the Ethiopian military.
Their mother Halimo Abdullahi Abdi claimed they had been shot dead by Ethiopian troops when they tried to leave their home.