, MOGADISHU, Jul 12 – Somali government forces with the help of African Union tanks fought Islamic militants in the capital on Sunday, with clashes killing at least seven people, police and witnesses said.
The clashes broke out after a government offensive in the Abdiasis neighbourhood of northern Mogadishu, with the Islamists having taken control of much of the conflict-ridden country.
"We are advancing in on their last positions in northern Mogadishu and several of their dead lay in the streets this morning," Somali police officer Abdulahi Duale told AFP. "We lost two soldiers in the battle this morning."
A witness said four civilians and one combatant was killed.
"The dead bodies of four civilians and a fighter were collected near my house," said one of the witnesses, Abdiweli Hasan. "They were killed in the clashes early this morning."
Mohamed Hashi Gurey, who lives in the Abdiasis neighbourhood, said two African Union tanks were involved in the fighting.
"The tanks were firing shells at the rebels near (a hotel) and they advanced in onto the Islamists’ strongholds," he said.
The African Union has deployed 4,300 peacekeepers to Somalia.
Another witness, Feisal Ali, said seven civilians were injured by mortar fire in the Bakara market neighbourhood.
The clashes come after fighting on Saturday killed at least 10 people, mostly militants, in northern Mogadishu.
Hardline Islamists launched an offensive against the internationally backed administration of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed on May 7.
More than 200,000 people have been displaced in the past two months, while hundreds of civilians are believed to have been killed and wounded, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.