Story Highlights• NEW: U.N. envoy to Somalia asks Security Council to take action
• Security Council reportedly to resume debate later Wednesday
• Islamic forces retreat; leader says conflict entering "new phase"
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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- The United Nations envoy to Somalia has warned of a "deteriorating situation" in the Horn of Africa nations and called for the U.N. Security Council to take steps to end the violence in the country.
Francois Lonseny Fall said Tuesday that civilians are increasingly at risk in Somalia, where Ethiopian troops backing the transitional government have launched attacks against Islamist militia that control much of the country.
Ethiopian and Somali government troops on Wednesday entered the strategic city of Jowhar, the last major town on the northern road to the capital, routing Islamic militiamen and forcing them to retreat, witnesses told The Associated Press. (Full story)
Thousands of Somalis -- many of them already devastated by severe flooding -- have been forced from their homes by the fighting, Fall said.
"The deteriorating situation in Somalia has no doubt dealt a serious blow to efforts aimed at the early resumption of peace talks," Fall said. "The fighting has also compounded an already serious humanitarian crisis, resulting in additional displacement of populations."
Qatar, which holds the council presidency, circulated a draft presidential statement calling for an immediate cease-fire and the immediate withdrawal of all international forces, specifying Ethiopian troops, according to reports from The Associated Press.
Other council members -- including the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and African members Ghana and Tanzania -- objected to singling out Ethiopia and calling for an immediate withdrawal, AP reported. Those nations said an immediate resumption of talks between the parties and a political agreement is essential to achieve stability before international forces withdraw.
Qatar objected and the council agreed to resume discussions later Wednesday, AP reported.
Fall also warned that government and Ethiopian forces were approaching Mogadishu, controlled by the Council of Islamic Courts (CIU), fueling fears of a major battle for the Somali capital. (Watch as Ethiopian forces claim major gains -- 2:16 )
The Islamic militant fighters had staged a tactical retreat on Tuesday as Ethiopian troops and Somali government forces advanced. But they stopped in the village of Jimbale, 140 kilometers (87 miles) north of Mogadishu and were defending the major town of Jowhar before being routed, according to AP.
The leader of the CIU said, however, that the fighting will last a long time unless the international community takes action against Ethiopia.
Ethiopian war planes bombed the Mogadishu airport Monday morning, an attack an Ethiopian official said was aimed at preventing Islamic jihadists from receiving supplies from outside the country. (Watch as Ethiopian planes strike in Somalia -- 2:24 )
Sharif Sheik Ahmed, leader of the CIU, told reporters in Somalia Tuesday that his forces were retreating from forward positions in a change of tactics. He also called on the United States and other countries to speak out against Ethiopia's aggression.
'War entering new phase'
"The war is entering a new phase and the withdrawal we made is for tactical reasons," Ahmed said. " We have changed the strategy of the war. We promise Ethiopia that it will not rest inside Somalia. We ask the world to stand by the Somali people."
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi challenged the notion of a "tactical" retreat by the Islamists.
"Our forces ... have broken the back of the international terrorist forces around Baidoa, and they are in full retreat now," he told reporters in Addis Ababa on Tuesday.
Somalia Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, speaking to CNN from Baidoa, Somalia, on Monday said the Ethiopian intervention was justified because of threats the "so-called Islamist court" has made against Ethiopia.
"They have all the right to get involved and prevent any attempt of the terrorists to attack their country and their people," Gedi said.
Ahmed said his movement is entirely Somali and had no connections to al Qaeda or other international terrorists.
CIU Foreign Secretary Ibrahim Hassan Addou told CNN that Ethiopia was trying to impose Gedi's U.N.-supported transitional Somali government on the country, when it had no popular support.
Comparisons to Taliban
The CIU holds most of southern and central Somalia, while the transitional government is based in Baidoa.
In early June, the CIU militia wrested control of Mogadishu from a U.S.-backed coalition of secular warlords.
The CIU has drawn comparisons to the Taliban, the fundamentalist militia that imposed a strict Islamic regime on Afghanistan and allowed al Qaeda to operate from its territory. CIU leader Ahmed has denied accusations that his group is harboring al Qaeda operatives and other terrorists.
The U.N. Security Council has backed the transitional government, and on December 6 it authorized an African force to protect the government's leaders in Baidoa against the increasingly powerful Islamic militia -- but no country has yet offered troops for that force.
Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another. A government was formed two years ago with the help of the United Nations, but it has struggled to assert its authority against the Islamic militants.
Until now, the government has not been able to extend its influence outside Baidoa, where it is headquartered about 225 kilometers (140 miles) northwest of Mogadishu.
The country was largely under the control of warlords until June, when the Islamic militia movement seized control of the capital and much of southern Somalia.
Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.
Transitional government soldiers patrol the streets of Burhakaba, Somalia.