MOGADISHU (AFP) — Insurgents shelled positions near the Somali presidential palace on Sunday, sparking fresh artillery duels in the seaside capital that has been convulsed by deadly clashes, witnesses said.Residents continued to flee some of the most dangerous neighbourhoods of Mogadishu as heavy fighting resumed between Islamist-led insurgents and Ethiopian-backed Somali forces.

“The mortars landed near the presidential palace,” said Farah Sahal, who lives near the palace, Villa Somalia.

“Government forces responded with artillery shells that were directed to specific neighbourhoods,” he added.

The vast Bakara market area in the south of the capital was deserted early Sunday as residents fled to safer areas.

According to estimates compiled by AFP, some 60 people, mostly civilians, were killed since Thursday in the worst clashes in Mogadishu since April, when Ethiopian troops wrested final control of the city from an Islamist militia that briefly controlled large parts of the country.

Civilians have complained of indiscriminate shooting by Ethiopian forces, who are involved in their toughest crackdown against the Islamist-led insurgency.

The Ethiopian army came to the rescue of the embattled Somali government last year to oust an Islamist militia that briefly controlled large parts of the country and sought to impose Islamic law.

President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed has been engaged in intensive consultations to find a new prime minister following the resignation late last month of Ali Mohamed Gedi.

Gedi was accused of failing to break the back of the insurgency and rebuilding the Horn of Africa country’s institutions.

Two weeks of clashes in Mogadishu had already displaced at least 90,000 people, according to the United Nations, worsening the humanitarian crisis that has blighted the nation for 16 years.

Towns and districts just outside Mogadishu have struggled to cope with the latest influx of refugees.

The Shabelle region — known as Somalia’s breadbasket — has suffered its worst crop in 13 years and aid agencies have warned of major food shortages that threaten the lives of thousands of children.

Relief workers have also said that the few people who stay behind in the worst-affected parts of Mogadishu are out of the relief net’s reach and face dire conditions.

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