Somalia's Al-Qaeda-inspired Shebab rebels attacked the presidential palace in Mogadishu overnight, sparking a battle that left at least 14 civilians dead, said officials and witnesses on Sunday.

The Islamist insurgents fired salvos of mortar rounds and closed in on the presidential area even as the world was pledging renewed support to Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed at a conference in Turkey.

Sporadic gunfire could be heard midday Sunday after African Union troops stopped the insurgent advance and defended the shrivelled seaside perimetre housing Mr. Sharif's embattled government.

“The number of civilians killed during the clashes overnight has reached 11 and it could be higher, because the violent militants using mortars attacked several other positions in southern Mogadishu,” Mohamed Ali Idle, a Somali government security official, told AFP.

The victims included five members of the same family who were killed when a mortar shell smashed into their home.

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