Fears for 20000 trapped in IS-held area amid battle for Mosul


More than eight months after the start of the operation to retake Mosul from IS, the jihadists have gone from fully controlling the city to holding a small pocket on the west bank of the River Tigris that flows through it.

But automatic weapons fire and explosions on Wednesday made clear that the final stage of the battle for the city was not yet over.

Tens of thousands of civilians are believed to be trapped inside the city, and there are fears that the jihadists are using them as human shields.

Civilians who have managed to get medical treatment are suffering from burns and shrapnel and blast injuries, while many are in need of critical care and are under-nourished, MSF officials said.

According to Iraq's al-Sumariah news network, Daesh executed 200 Iraqi civilians on Tuesday as the civilians were trying to flee the city of Tal Afar, located 63 kilometers west of Mosul, to government-controlled areas in Nineveh Province.

"Our estimate at this stage is that in the final pockets of the Old City, there could be as many as 15,000 civilians, possibly even as high as 20,000", United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Iraq Lise Grande said on Thursday.

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Numerous civilians were injured while fleeing the Old City district where there are clashes between Islamic State and the Iraqi army, Col. Ahmad Hashim said.

Locals who remain in territory held by the Islamist group are in grave danger amid further airstrikes and the threat of death from Daesh (the Arab name for ISIS) if they try to leave.

The area yet to be retaken totals 850 by 1,700 meters (1.445 sq km) in the old city - notably Al Farouk 2 neighborhood, Hazra al-Sada and Hamdia districts, Ras al-Khor, and the destroyed al-Nuri Mosque and al-Hadba Minaret, along with other holy sites.

A member of the Emergency Response Division during the fight with the ISIS militants in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, July 3, 2017. "It's really mass destruction. similar to the blitz of the Second World War, hospitals have been destroyed, neighbourhoods are in ruins".

Iraqi forces backed by a USA -led coalition launched a major operation to retake the city in October.