The United Nations expressed "deep concern" on Tuesday for 750,000 civilians living to the west of Mosul in Iraq ahead of battles to retake the city from the Islamic state militant group, Daesh.
"We don't know what will happen in western Mosul but we cannot rule out the possibility of siege-like conditions or a mass exodus," Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, warned in a statement. "They can be killed by booby-traps and in cross-fire and could be used as human shields."
Grande explained that reports from inside western Mosul are distressing. "The prices of basic food and supplies are soaring," she explained. "Many families without income are eating only once a day. Others are being forced to burn furniture to stay warm."
The UN High Commission for Human Rights warned that Daesh targets all of those who attempt to escape from areas under its control. Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva that the terrorist organisation bombs civilians directly, and carries out suicide bombings in areas it leaves.
The UN official stressed that Daesh has previously used civilians as human shields in areas under its control during air raids, leading to the killing of many people.
Meanwhile, an officer in the Iraqi army said that troops have put together a plan to protect civilians during the fighting, set to begin soon. Captain Uday Mohammed told Anadolu news agency that the Nineveh operation forces aim to provide safe routes for civilians to escape from danger areas. He pointed out that the forces, which will participate in the battles west of Mosul, have gained experience in the protection of civilians whilst fighting against the militant group over the past three months.