An Iraqi general said troops seeking to recapture the Islamic State stronghold of Fallujah have opened a safe corridor that humanitarian workers say has allowed about 4,000 residents to flee the embattled city in the past day.
The escape route, secured Saturday, was hailed by the Norwegian Refugee Council, whose overwhelmed workers struggled Sunday to provide emergency services to the latest refugees.
Council spokesman Karl Schembri voiced relief, while warning that available resources, including safe drinking water, would not meet refugee needs much longer.
"We expect thousands more to be able to leave in the coming days," Schembri told reporters.
General Yahya Rasool said the escape route was secured after troops dislodged insurgents from districts located on the western bank of the Euphrates river.
The United Nations last week voiced concern for the fate of as many as 90,000 civilians believed trapped in the city without basic food and medical necessities.
U.N. humanitarian coordinator Lise Grande told Reuters her agency had raised the number of trapped civilians from 50,0000 to 90,000 based on witness accounts, after underestimating their numbers in the ravaged city.
Iraqi forces poised on the outskirts of Fallujah met heavy Islamic State resistance Saturday in their weeks-old offensive to retake the city, which was overrun by IS fighters in early 2014.
Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi claimed during a visit to the battle zone that government forces were advancing along a new front west of the city.
But Al Jazeera TV reported that IS fighters had repulsed government forces trying to enter Fallujah from the south. VOA could not independently confirm either claim.