At least 23 people have been killed and 61 injured in fighting between Islamist insurgents and African Union-backed government forces in the Somali capital Mogadishu, officials said Thursday.
Fighters from the insurgent group al-Shabaab, which is pushing to oust the weak central government, exchanged artillery fire with the government forces for much of the day in northern Mogadishu.
'Our staff has so far collected 18 dead bodies and 61 wounded in northern districts. Some are far from the battle zone but the shelling reached everywhere,' Ali Muse Sheikh, head of Mogadishu's ambulance service, told DPA.
'The death toll could rise because some of the casualties have been collected by private cars,' he added.
A source in Mogadishu's main hospital told DPA that five people had died there.
Al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Rage told reporters that they had beaten off an offensive by the African Union peacekeeping mission AMISOM.
'The mercenary Christian troops attacked early this morning,' he said. 'We repelled them and burned one of their vehicles and killed several of their soldiers'.
A government army commander denied the claims.
Somalia has been immersed in chaos since the early 1990s, following the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.
The insurgency has claimed the lives of over 20,000 people since early 2007. Western security agencies have also warned that the Horn of Africa nation is becoming a haven for international terrorists.