MOGADISHU, Somalia - A missile hit a hospital ward packed with civilians wounded in fighting between Islamic insurgents and Ethiopian troops allied to the Somalian government, but it was not immediately clear whether it caused additional casualties, an official said.

The ward already was housing 20 to 30 wounded adults, said Wilhelm Huber, regional director for the SOS Children's Villages. The children had been evacuated earlier, he said.

Five missiles had hit the grounds in the lunchtime attack, but only one struck a ward, Huber said. People were wounded, but he did not have details because of the chaotic situation.

"What is happening now cannot go on," Huber said. "People are desperate.. . . This is a tragic situation."

At least 13 shells have hit the grounds of the hospital and children's orphanage in the last six days, including the latest attack, he said.

Earlier in the day, civilians were caught in the crossfire as the Somalian government's Ethiopian backers used tanks and heavy artillery to pound insurgent areas, witnesses said.

Ethiopian military officials met with elders of Mogadishu's dominant clan to try to broker a peace, said Abdullahi Sheik Hassan, a spokesman with Mogadishu's powerful Hawiye clan. Hundreds have been killed in eight straight days of fighting.

Analysts said U.S. and Ethiopian military intervention in Somalia has destroyed a fragile stability in this battle-scarred nation. More than a week of unrelenting violence trapped civilians in their homes as gunfire and artillery shells rained down outside.

The leaders of an Islamic movement that was driven from power in December by the government and its Ethiopian backers are still active, and popular support for the group is unlikely to melt away, concluded a report by the British-based think tank Chatham House.

The Council of Islamic Courts ruled much of southern Somalia for six relatively peaceful months in 2006 before being ousted by Somalian troops and their Ethiopian allies, along with U.S. special forces. Council radicals rejected a secular government and have been accused of having al-Qaeda links.

The war-ravaged country is suffering its worst humanitarian crisis in recent history, the United Nations found.

The United Nations says more than 340,000 of Mogadishu's two million residents have fled since February, sending streams of people into squalid camps with little to eat, no shelter, and disease spreading.

Human-rights groups say more than 350 people have been killed in the last eight days, the majority of them civilians.

Ethiopia: Eritrea Was Behind Attack

Ethiopia blamed its longtime enemy Eritrea yesterday for an attack in Ethiopia on a Chinese-owned oil-exploration field that killed 74. Eritrea issued

a swift, angry denial.

At least six Chinese workers and a number of Ethiopians were taken hostage during Tuesday's dawn attack, for which the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front claimed responsibility. The secessionist group formed from Ethiopia's minority Somalis has been linked to neighboring Eritrea.

Eritrea became independent from the Addis Ababa government in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war. The two countries fought

a two-year border war

that ended in 2000.

- Associated Press

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