By Guled Mohamed
MOGADISHU, July 31 (Reuters) - Islamist rebels attacked Somali and Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu with rockets and gunfire in the early hours of Tuesday, killing at least four people in the heaviest fighting for days.
The attack — which one Islamist fighter said involved dozens of "mujahideen" — was the latest in an insurgency waged by remnants of a hardline Islamic Courts movement ousted earlier this year by government forces and their Ethiopian allies.
"Insurgents attacked us," one government soldier, Mohamed Said, told Reuters. "They launched rockets at us and then opened fire. A heavy exchange ensued. One soldier died and two were wounded. I also understand three civilians were killed."
One Islamist fighter who refused to be named said his side had numbered "dozens of mujahideen" and that he believed they had inflicted a lot of damage.
"We carry out such attacks late at night when civilians are sleeping in order to reduce casualties," he told Reuters. "Such attacks will go on until the Ethiopians leave our land."
Somalia’s interim government is trying to boost its legitimacy through a reconciliation conference that has drawn hundreds of clan elders and former warlords to the capital.
But insurgents have attacked the venue of talks with mortars, which missed their target and hit residential areas. And on Friday gunmen fired rockets at a hotel housing delegates.
The conference leaders said last week that they would open up the discussions to Islamists, members of a rival meeting in Eritrea and even the insurgents targeting the venue.
But that offer drew derision from Islamist leaders and renegade members of the Somali parliament who have based themselves in the Eritrea capital Asmara — and vowed to hold an opposition peace meeting there in September.
Eritrea is Ethiopia’s arch-rival and diplomats say the pair have waged a proxy war in Somalia since last year, when Asmara backed the Islamists against the Addis Ababa-backed government.