AFP - Renewed clashes erupted Wednesday between government troops and Islamist rebels in Mogadishu, killing six civilians a day after the insurgents mowed down 33 people, including four MPs in a hotel raid.
Government soldiers backed by African Union forces exchanged heavy artillery fire on several fronts in the south and north of the war-torn Somali capital, with civilians yet again bearing the brunt of the violence.
"I saw the dead bodies of six civilians killed this morning. Four of them died in one place and the others died separately in Yaqshid neighbourhood," a witness, Muhidin Ali, told AFP.
Mogadishu ambulance service officials said they had picked up around 18 injured civilians.
Both sides claimed the upper hand in Wednesday's fighting, which had largely subsided by early afternoon.
Government security official Colonel Mohamed Adan told AFP: "The government forces are advancing towards the enemy lines. They (the enemy) lost many fighters," but did not give an exact figure.
The Al-Qaeda-inspired Shabaab rebels, who claimed responsibility for the carnage on Tuesday in Mogadishu's Mona Hotel, also said they were victorious.
"Our fighters moved ahead this morning and there were clashes around several defensive positions of the apostate government and the African invading Christians supporting them," said Sheik Abdiaziz Abu-Muscab, Shabaab's military operations spokesman.
"Thanks to Allah, we have killed many soldiers and the Mujahideen fighters are now in full control of their last strongholds."
He said the government were controlling only one of the four main roads in Mogadishu "and with the assistance of Allah’s power, our fighters cut off that road today and the enemy cannot move between their positions."
Spokesman of the peacekeeping force, AMISOM, Major Ba-Hoku Barigye confirmed the clashes but denied Shabaab's claim.
"We are still in our positions and neither government forces nor the African peacekeepers lost their positions.
"We will stand firm and protect the right side, there is no cause for alarm as the situation is under control," Barigye said.
He condemned the attack on the "soft target" of the Mona hotel in which 33 people, among them four lawmakers were killed, Somalia's information ministry said, revising a previous toll of six dead MPs.
Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed also condemned the "assault on a hotel filled with fasting innocent civilians", observing the Moslem holy month of Ramadan, a statement from his office said.
He said the attack "will only redouble the Somali people's resistance against this transient menace".
Tuesday's fighting also claimed the life of journalist Barkhat Awale, who was hit by a stray bullet while helping a technician fix transmission equipment on a rooftop, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said.
In Rome, Pope Benedict XVI appealed to the international community to work to protect human life and rights in Somalia where some 65 civilians have been killed since violence erupted Monday.
"I hope with the help of the international community, no effort will be spared to re-establish respect for life and human rights," said the pope.
Since launching an offensive in May 2009, the Shabaab have waged near-daily battles to topple Sharif's government, and have greatly reduced the part of Mogadishu under his control.
They have also repeatedly targeted the AMISOM peacekeeping forces comprising some 6,000 Ugandan and Burundian troops, accusing them of occupying the country and killing civilians.
The radical militants said they were responsible for the July 11 suicide bombing of two sites in the Ugandan capital that left at least 76 people dead, which they said was to avenge Uganda's role in the AMISOM.