Shells and machinegun fire pounded the Somali capital on Thursday, setting buildings on fire, as Ethiopians forces and Islamist guerrillas battled for the ninth day.
After a night of sporadic shelling, columns of Ethiopian tanks ploughed into northern Mogadishu, firing mortars and rockets on to suspected rebel positions, as machine-gun fire ricocheted across neighbourhoods.
Terrified civilians scrambled to escape stray bullets as buildings were set on fire and Mogadishu was transformed into a virtual "ghost town", residents said.
"The heaviest fighting is raging this morning. They are exchanging everything they have, from bullets from anti-aircraft shells; no one can put his head up," said Salah Doli, a resident of Jamhuriha area.
"Mortars have hit shops and buildings, destroying them and setting others ablaze," he added.
Resident Ahmed Suad said shelling had destroyed buildings in the Tawfiq area, forcing civilians to flee as insurgents dug in to resist a bid by Ethiopian forces to wipe them out.
"As I was fleeing my home, I saw several bodies lying in the streets," he said. "This is some of the heaviest fighting ever in northern Mogadishu."
Human rights workers monitoring the death toll said on Wednesday at least 329 people, mostly civilians and insurgents, had been killed in the clashes that come around three weeks after similar battles claimed at least 1 000 lives.
Dozens of corpses lay rotting in the battle fields as the ongoing fighting prevented aid workers from collecting them.
Mogadishu doctors have appealed for medical supplies for the wounded in some of the heaviest clashes in Mogadishu since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.
The United Nations says that more than 321 000 people had fled the seaside capital, home to about a million people, since February 1, but elders said the figure had shot beyond 400 000.
Many of the displaced are camped in the capital’s outskirts, facing disease outbreaks and without sufficient water, food and medicine, according to aid workers.
Alarmed by a looming humanitarian disaster, the UN has pleaded for access to bring aid to the displaced. — Sapa-AFP