HERO Brit commandos plucked children to safety as air strikes pounded war-torn Sudan – with just hours left of the fragile ceasefire as the UK works to rescue its citizens.
The clock is ticking as the delicate truce will expire at midnight tonight – yet so far only 897 people have by airlifted by British forces from the airfield just outside the capital Khartoum.
The Foreign Office confirmed those people had been evacuated on eight UK flights as of 4pm today, with further flights expected.
Britain is now working to try and get the ceasefire extended as the frantic rescue mission continues – with hundreds if not thousands of Brits still waiting to escape Sudan.
And today the Sudanese army pounded paramilitary forces with airstrikes – with fears the conflict will only escalate when the ceasefire expires at midnight.
“The British ambassador continues to speak to the warring parties in Sudan,” said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak‘s spokesman.
“As part of that, we are obviously supporting an extension to the ceasefire and are lobbying for that.”
UK military chiefs said at least 500 people a day can be rescued from Wadi Saeedna Air Base which is some 14 miles north of the city and currently under the control of UK commandos.
More than 2,000 British nationals in Sudan have registered with the FCDO under evacuation plans, but thousands more could be in the war-torn nation.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly warned earlier today the UK “cannot guarantee” how many further flights will depart after the deadline is reached at midnight local time.
He urged UK nationals who wish to leave Sudan to make their way to the Wadi Saeedna air strip “as soon as possible”.
Doubts are growing about the ability to continue the operation should fighting intensify around Khartoum.
So far eight flights have left the country during the ceasefire, taking Brits to Cyprus before they are then being flown by charter plane back to the UK.
Brits however still face a gauntlet of chaos as they attempt to reach the airfield.
There are reports of snipers on the streets, resumed air strikes and chronic fuel shortages which is hampering the efforts of Brits to escape.
Evacuation flights using Hercules and Atlas military transport planes are running a loop from Khartoum to Cyprus.
Royal Navy commandos and SAS special forces are on the ground helping to secure the airfield and will protect the base if it comes under attack.
Some 1,400 Brit servicemen are involved in the Sudan evacuation mission which has been described as even more difficult than the frantic escape from Afghanistan’s capital Kabul in 2021.
Mr Cleverly told Sky News: “We cannot predict exactly what will happen when that ceasefire ends, but what we do know is it will be much, much harder, potentially impossible.
“So, what we’re saying to British nationals is if you’re hesitant, if you’re weighing up your options, our strong, strong advice is to go through Wadi Saeedna whilst the ceasefire is up and running.
“There are planes, there is capacity, we will lift you out. I’m not able to make those same assurances once a ceasefire has ended.”
SAS troops evacuated UK diplomatic officials on Sunday in a daring rescue mission.
And then the wider evacuation was launched during a ceasefire brokered between the warring factions.
Africa minister Andrew Mitchell said the evacuation mission was “going very smoothly” with “no great backlog, no great congestion” at the air strip.
But he warned “we are absolutely in the hands of the ceasefire”.
Mr Mitchell told Sky News: “We are doing everything we can to make sure it’s prolonged and on the wider stage, too, trying to negotiate for a longer ceasefire, because if the combatants don’t lay down their arms and return to barracks, there’s going to be a humanitarian catastrophe in Sudan.”
Only British passport holders and immediate family members with existing UK entry clearance are being told they are eligible for evacuation.
But Alicia Kearns, the Tory chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said elderly people dependent on children who are British citizens should also be admitted.
She told the BBC: “In the same way we treat children who are dependent on their parents, we should respect that some elderly people are dependent on their children.
“So, I think it is important that we are bringing people out who would otherwise be left destitute and really vulnerable.”
The Government is working to provide other routes out of Sudan, with HMS Lancaster progressing towards Port Sudan, the Red Sea dock some 500 miles from Khartoum that could possibly be used in a seaborne operation.
But with UK nationals being told to make their own way to evacuation sites, that trip would be made particularly challenging by fuel shortages and the traffic of people fleeing.
People arriving at London Stansted Airport on the first evacuation flight were reunited with loved ones in emotional scenes.
Women with small children and babies in prams, as well as elderly individuals in wheelchairs were among those met by family members and friends waiting anxiously in the arrivals lounge.
One man from Sudan, who did not give his name, described his experience as a “nightmare”.
Speaking outside the airport, he said: “It’s absolutely fantastic to be back. It’s been a nightmare. We’ve never seen anything like it before.
“We saw it on the television before but we never thought it was going to happen to a peaceful country like Sudan.
“Khartoum is like a ghost city, everyone is leaving Khartoum now.
“We are very grateful to the British servicemen and women who risked their lives to come to Sudan and help us out.”
Samar Eltayeb, from Birmingham, a medical student in Khartoum, compared the conditions to the movie The Purge – which features a society where lawlessness and murder run rife.
“It was so terrifying. The sounds kept getting louder and it was as if they were right outside the dorm,” she told Sky News.
The student explained she is trapped and unable to reach to the airfield as there is no petrol for their cars.
She added: “There’ll be constant flights within the next few days, but if I can’t find gas to get there, then I’m stuck.”
Wathig Ali, a British citizen in Khartoum, along with his son, 6, and pregnant wife said the situation is “extremely hostile”.
“Our worst fear is the bombing and the checkpoints on the way to the airport. We have been stuck indoors for days,” he said.
Brit charity worker Yasmin Sholgami told the BBC her grandparents are trapped in Khartoum without food and water.
She explained every time relatives have tried to reach their own they’ve been shot at by snipers.
“Little does the government know that there are many areas in the centre of Khartoum that are too dangerous to leave your house without help from some sort of official,” said Yasmin.
The ceasefire between Sudan’s warring generals came into effect on Tuesday – and will expire at midnight tonight.
The country has been rocked by two weeks days of urban combat which has killed more than 400, wounded thousands, and sparked a mass exodus of foreigners.
The United States and European, Middle Eastern, African and Asian nations launched emergency missions to bring to safety their embassy staff and Sudan-based citizens by road, air and sea.
But millions of Sudanese are unable to flee what is one of the world’s poorest countries, with a history of military coups.
They are trying to survive acute shortages of water, food, medicine and fuel as well as power and internet blackouts.
The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) agreed to the ceasefire “following intense negotiations”, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement shortly before the truce took effect last night.
Previous bids to pause the conflict failed to take hold, but both sides confirmed they had agreed to the three-day halt.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned earlier that Sudan was on “the edge of the abyss” and that the violence “could engulf the whole region and beyond”.
The fighting has pitted forces loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan against those of his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the RSF.
With Khartoum airport disabled after battles that left charred aircraft on the tarmac, many foreigners were airlifted from smaller airstrips to countries including Djibouti and Jordan.
More than a dozen passenger jets were damaged on the tarmac when clashes erupted at the commercial airport.
Experts have long drawn links between the RSF and Russian mercenary group Wagner. Blinken earlier on Monday voiced “deep concern” that Wagner risked aggravating the war in Sudan.
The military toppled Bashir in April 2019 following mass citizen protests that raised hopes for a transition to democracy.
The two generals seized power in the 2021 coup, but later fell out, most recently over the planned integration of the RSF into the regular army.
Those Sudanese who can afford to are also fleeing Khartoum on crowded buses for the more than 900-kilometre desert drive north to Egypt.
Among the 800,000 South Sudanese refugees who previously fled civil war in their own country, some are choosing to return, with women and children crossing the border, said the UN refugee agency.
In the capital, street battles have left the sky often blackened by smoke from shelled buildings and torched shops.