MOGADISHU — The African Union force in Somalia said on Friday that it will not bombard a popular Mogadishu market sustaining the war-torn city, but which is also a hotbed of the Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab insurgents.

Many civilians have been killed in the Bakara market in clashes between the AU force, AMISOM, and the extremist rebels.

“AMISOM has designated Bakara market a ‘no-fire zone’ and does not fire artillery or mortars into the market,” the mission’s spokesman Paddy Ankunda said in a statement.

“We know that the extremists, who extort money from the businesses, have established a stronghold in the market and deliberately shield their reign of terror behind the civilians and business community who make their living there,” he added.

The AMISOM launched a fresh offensive last week against the Shebab in Mogadishu and said they had seized key areas of the capital from the insurgents.

The Shebab are fighting to topple President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s government and drive off the 9,000-strong AU force.

“We reassure all civilians and the business community that plans to flush extremists out of the market will be conducted with the greatest care to ensure minimal harm and damage.”

The AMISOM deployed in Somalia in 2007 to prop up Somalia’s government from the Shebab who control much of the Horn of African country’s southern and central regions.