Timbuktu [Mali], September 22 (ANI): In the besieged city of Timbuktu in northern Mali, a recent artillery attack has claimed the lives of at least two individuals and left five others injured. This incident occurred amidst a prolonged blockade imposed by armed fighters in the area, which has now stretched for a month and a half, Al Jazeera reported.
The frequency of attacks in northern Mali has surged significantly since the United Nations peacekeepers completed the initial phase of their withdrawal just last month, concluding a decade-long engagement in combatting armed groups. Tragically, this withdrawal has resulted in over 150 fatalities.
The military disclosed, "The city of Timbuktu has come under terrorist shellfire this afternoon," while providing a "provisional toll" of two fatalities and five casualties.
The Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), linked to al-Qaeda, had declared "war in the Timbuktu region" in August, issuing warnings against supply trucks from neighboring regions attempting to enter the city. Now, more than six weeks later, tens of thousands of Timbuktu's residents find themselves virtually isolated from the outside world and struggling to survive, according to Al Jazeera.
Baba Mohamed, a vendor at Timbuktu's market, voiced the increasing desperation felt by the populace. He stated, "The market is currently very difficult because if it goes on like this a lot of stores will close," further emphasizing the challenges arising from shortages in essential food items such as oil, milk, sugar, rice, and millet.
The insurgents have expanded their control over the rural areas surrounding the more heavily fortified towns in northern Mali, intensifying pressure on the central government.
Mali's military administration, in power for over three years, grapples with mounting violence in the severely affected northern region, all while demanding the withdrawal of approximately 17,000 UN peacekeepers. Simultaneously, a 2015 peace agreement with ethnic Tuareg rebels appears to have unraveled, exacerbating the security crisis, as reported by Al Jazeera.
The United Nations has sounded an alarm about an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe if the present situation in Timbuktu persists. Mohammed Askia Toure, the UN refugee agency representative to Mali, expressed, "The siege has created some kind of havoc. Those that can afford to leave Timbuktu leave Timbuktu." He reported a noticeable influx of thousands of Malian refugees into Mauritania from the Timbuktu region, where they currently lack a safe haven.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has already recorded over 33,000 individuals who have fled the Timbuktu and Taoudeni regions in northern Mali, seeking refuge in Mauritania and Algeria to escape the ongoing violence. According to a recent UN report, armed groups have nearly doubled the territory under their control in less than a year. In a particularly audacious attack, militants targeted a triple-decker passenger boat, resulting in the tragic loss of 49 civilian lives, Al Jazeera reported. (ANI)