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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ethiopian Shells Hit Mogadishu

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Ethiopian tanks and artillery shelled an insurgent stronghold in northern Mogadishu on Thursday, as cease-fire talks floundered and rumors spread that a top Islamic rebel had arrived in the capital.

The heavy-weapons fire was in support of Somali government troops attempting to clear insurgents from a neighborhood known for housing Islamic radicals. A missile slammed through the roof of a nearby children's hospital packed with wounded civilians late Wednesday.

Leaders from the Hawiye clan were expected to meet again Thursday with Ethiopian army officers to negotiate a cease-fire. A clan leader who attended the meeting said the Ethiopian officers wanted the elders to hand over fighters from the Council of Islamic Courts military wing, the Shabab.

The Shabab, which the United States accuses of having ties to al-Qaida, has taken credit for a string of suicide bombings against Ethiopian troops.

The leader who attended the meeting, but asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the talks, said the elders denied any knowledge about the Shabab or al-Qaida suspects believed to be in the country.

Meanwhile, bodyguards linked to a top Islamic extremist, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, arrived in Mogadishu on Wednesday, sparking rumors that Aweys and other Shabab leaders were leading the fighting against the Somali and Ethiopian troops.

Most members of the courts' leadership have either fled the country, or been in hiding since Ethiopia intervened in December to prop up the government.

The shell that hit the children's hospital on Wednesday exploded in a ward housing 20 to 30 wounded adults, said Wilhelm Huber, regional director for SOS Children's Villages.

The children had been evacuated earlier when shells hit the compound, Huber said.

Five missiles hit the grounds in the lunchtime attack, but only one hit a ward, Huber said. He said people were injured, but he did not have details due to the chaotic situation.

"What is happening now cannot go on," he said from Nairobi, Kenya, where he is based. He said he did not believe the hospital had been deliberately targeted, but that the shell clearly had come from government forces because of the direction of the missiles.

"People are desperate," Huber said. "This is a tragic situation."

Somali government officials were not immediately available for comment.

The Council of Islamic Courts ruled much of southern Somalia for six relatively peaceful months in 2006 before being ousted by Somali troops and their Ethiopian allies, along with U.S. special forces. Radicals in the council rejected a secular government and have been accused of having ties to al-Qaida.

Rights groups say more than 350 people have been killed in eight straight days of fighting.

The United Nations says more than 340,000 of Mogadishu's 2 million residents have fled since February.