MOSUL, Iraq, Oct. 19 (UPI) — Thousands of civilians have fled Mosul and crossed into Syria as Iraqi and Kurdish forces captured nearly all territory south of Iraq’s second-largest city away Islamic State control.
Nearly 1,000 people who fled Mosul are now at a refugee camp in Syria, the United Nations said, BBC News reported. The refugee camp will be used temporarily until the United Nations and humanitarian groups can transport the residents back to a safe location within Iraq.
The United Nations previously said Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga will be involved in screening Mosul civilians to determine whether any are IS militants.
The Iraqi government suggested to Mosul residents it may be safer to stay in Mosul while the offensive against the Islamic State is being executed. The militant Islamist group is known to use civilians as human shields, and may have place snipers and booby-traps in escape routes.
One Iraqi refugee living at the al-Hawl camp in Syria, where about 6,100 Iraqi refugees reside and more are expected, said they fled Mosul in fear of their lives over the occupation by the Islamic State, also known as Daesh, ISIL and ISIS.
“The situation was miserable there. We all fled due to ISIS,” Ahmed Jasim said, Rudaw reported.
Iraqi security forces began the offensive to take back Mosul on Monday after months of preparation with the aid of the Kurdish Peshmerga and airstrikes carried out by the U.S.-led international coalition against the Islamic State.
Iraqi News reported that Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga have taken control of more than 80 percent of territory south of Mosul, including about 54 villages.
Heavy street fighting occurred Wednesday in the village of Abbasiyah, southeast of Mosul. A Kurdish official said the Islamic State has bombed at least two buildings within Mosul.
“Daesh has bombed the new building for the Nineveh provincial council in the Faisaliyah neighbourhood in central Mosul, and they also bombed part of the old building for the Nineveh province on Dwasa Street, which is located in Mosul’s city center,” Kurdish official Saeed Mamuzini told Rudaw.