MOGADISHU, Somalia – Somalia's Islamic militia battled a pocket of resistance in the capital for a second straight day Monday, pounding Mogadishu with machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades just one day after 20 people were killed in bloody fighting.
Seven people were killed Monday and the death toll was expected to rise, hospitals reported.
The Islamic fighters who wrested Mogadishu from warlords last month were fighting supporters of Abdi Awale Qaybdiid, who refused to disarm after the U.S.-backed secular alliance lost its battle for control of the capital.
"We have been attacked by the alliance of warlords, and Qaybdiid's militia are the remnants of that alliance, so there is no other option but to fight to the finish," the Islamic fighters' leader, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Monday.
Residents were hunkered down in their homes or shops as mortar shells slammed the city. The bloodshed was reminiscent of the weeks of fierce fighting before the Islamic militia took control and asserted a strict Islamic rule.
Hundreds of people began fleeing their homes Sunday, when the latest battles erupted.
"We were trapped inside our home for three hours, we could not even stand up" because of stray bullets, said Said Yahye, who eventually fled his house with his three sons.
Doctors said at least 20 dead and 40 wounded were taken to four hospitals in Mogadishu over the weekend. At least four other bodies lay on the ground, witnesses said.
Somalia's largely powerless U.N.-backed secular interim government said the radical Islamic group must stop attacks if they want to join talks on restoring law and order in Mogadishu.
A meeting was scheduled Saturday in Sudan under Arab League auspices to negotiate a full peace accord between the internationally backed government and the Islamic fighters. The two sides signed a nonaggression agreement at a June 22 meeting in Sudan, but relations have deteriorated since then.
Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi said the government won't take part in peace talks involving Aweys. "We will not sit with radical members of the Islamic Courts, we will sit with those who are moderates," he said.
Somalia has been without an effective government since warlords overthrew its longtime dictator in 1991 and divided the nation into fiefdoms.
In the absence of an effective central government, Islamic fundamentalists have stepped into the vacuum as an alternative military and political power.
The Islamic militiamen have grown increasingly radical since they seized the capital, forbidding movies, television and music in line with their strict interpretation of Islam.
A recent recruiting video issued by militia members showed foreign militants fighting alongside them, and invited Muslims from around the world to join in their "holy jihad."
On Monday, Islamic official Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said the tape was "false and fabricated" and blamed it on the United States. "It is nothing but the Bush administration's false information, which they use to mislead the world," he said.
Ahmed added that Sunday's fighting was "inevitable, because nobody can have authority in the city beyond the Islamic courts."