IS group shoots civilians fleeing Fallujah battle
On Sunday, the militants shot and killed seven civilians and seven IS defectors inside Fallujah as they attempted to flee, Iraqi Maj Ali Hanoon said.
Hanoon, who is with the elite Iraqi counterterrorism forces, on Monday put the number of civilians killed by IS since the operation started at "dozens" but declined to be more specific, saying the information coming out of Fallujah is sporadic and often incomplete.
Iraqi officials say the total is likely higher. Iraqi forces, backed by US-led coalition airstrikes, have been fighting to retake the IS-held city of Fallujah since late May, but the advance stalled last week because of heavy resistance the militants have put up and because an estimated 50,000 civilians remain trapped inside the city.
Yesterday, Iraqi forces secured the southern edge of Fallujah, a largely agricultural area. "They know that if they trap the civilians, it will slow our progress," Hanoon said.
Last week, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of civilians attempting to flee Fallujah, killing two people and wounded three, according to police. From Baghdad, the Norwegian Refugee Council, which works with refugees and internally displaced Iraqis, said late Sunday that a number of fleeing civilians have been killed as they tried to cross the Euphrates River.
"Our biggest fears are now tragically confirmed with civilians being directly targeted while trying to flee to safety," said Nasr Muflahi, the NRC Country Director in Iraq. The Fallujah operation in Iraq coincides with a twin offensive on IS-strongholds in neighboring Syria.
Syrian Kurdish forces are advancing on Manbij, an IS-held city controlling the supply route between the Turkish border and the town of Raqqa, the militants' de facto capital.