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UN: 200,000 could flee Mosul as fighting intensifies

Iraqi civilians, fled from clashes between Iraqi Army and Daesh terrorists, try to take food aid at the refugee camp in Hamam Ali town, as the operation to retake Iraq's Mosul from Daesh terrorists continues in Mosul, Iraq on March 19, 2017. ( Yunus Keleş - Anadolu Agency )

The United Nations today warned that up to 200,000 more people might flee Mosul as Iraqi forces push into the last districts held by Daesh.

Iraqi authorities and aid agencies are already struggling to cope with a surge in displacement since security forces opened a new front against the militants in Mosul earlier this month.

Backed by a US-led coalition, Iraqi forces have dislodged Daesh from all but about 12 square kilometres of the city and are seeking to claim victory before the holy month of Ramadan in less than two weeks.

Read: US expects Daesh to resurface in new shape after its defeat in Mosul

The militants, however, still control the Old City, where they are expected to make their last stand in the densely populated, narrow streets that are impassable for armoured vehicles.

Military commanders say the aim is to raise the Iraqi flag over the Old City’s Nuri mosque, from which Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi proclaimed a caliphate, so the battle can be declared won even if pockets of resistance remain.

“As military operations intensify and move closer to Mosul’s Old City area, we expect that up to 200,000 more people will flee,” Lise Grande, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, said in a statement, describing the figures as “alarming”.

The numbers of people who are moving are now so large, it’s becoming more and more difficult to ensure civilians receive the assistance and protection they need.

Human Rights Watch said on Thursday the Iraqi army and other local security forces had forced over 300 displaced families to return to western districts of Mosul that are still at risk of attack by Daesh.

“These families should not be forcibly returned to unsafe areas and areas that lack adequate water, food, electricity, or health facilities,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

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