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UN: More Iraqi Civilians Fleeing Mosul as Military Operations Intensify

Displaced Iraqis, who fled fighting between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State militants, return to their homes in neighborhoods retaken by Iraqi government forces in the eastern side of Mosul, Iraq, Jan. 4, 2017.

The United Nations reports increasing numbers of civilians are fleeing Mosul as Iraqi military operations to wrest the city from Islamic State (IS) control intensify.

Latest figures show more than 135,000 people have fled Mosul since the Iraqi military offensive to retake the city from IS militants began on October 17. The United Nations reports 4,000 were displaced on January 2, one of the largest movements of people in a single day since the conflict began.

Jens Laerke, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, says most of the newly displaced are being cared for in camps run by the government and by humanitarian agencies, although people also are seeking help from family and friends.

Laerke says aid agencies have no access to IS-controlled areas, increasing humanitarian concerns for the civilians remaining there. He says these fears are reinforced by reports from those who have escaped harsh conditions under which they were forced to live.

“Some of those who have fled from the western part of Mosul, IS-held Mosul, are saying that there are very few consumables left in terms of food, other consumables for daily sustenance,” says Laerke. “They also are talking about being restricted, for example, in running their generators by those who are in control of the area.... We are very concerned for their safety, their security, and their protection.”

Laerke says the United Nations has increased access to areas retaken by Iraqi government forces in Mosul; but, he says aid agencies are restrained from rushing in because of the high risk of death and injury from unexploded devices. He says contaminated areas must be cleared to make it safe to go in.

He says trauma casualties remain extremely high because of increased military activity, especially near the front lines. The United Nations reports more than 3,100 civilians have been wounded in the fighting since December 5.