Sunday 4 December 2016

Isil executes 50 militants trying to escape Mosul

Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Sussannah George in Baghdad

Published 05/11/2016 | 02:30

A boy reacts as Iraqi soldiers help him to walk out the front line during a battle with Islamic State in the Intisar disrict of eastern Mosul, Iraq. Photo: Reuters
A boy reacts as Iraqi soldiers help him to walk out the front line during a battle with Islamic State in the Intisar disrict of eastern Mosul, Iraq. Photo: Reuters
People see their relatives who had fled from Mosul at a fence surrounding Al-Khazer refugee camp, east of Mosul, Iraq
People gather outside the Khazer camp, east of Mosul. Photo: AP
A girl sits on an empty ammunition box near an Iraqi soldier at her house's garden during a fighting with Islamic State fighters, near the front line in the Shahrazad district of eastern Mosul. Photo: Reuters
Iraqi soldiers talk to a boy during a fighting with Islamic State fighters, near the front line in the Shahrazad district of eastern Mosul. Photo: Reuters
Iraqi special forces vehicles move as an airstrike hits an Islamic State militant position on the outskirts of Mosul. Photo: AP
Iraqi special forces soldiers move in formation in an alley on the outskirts of Mosul. Photo: AP
Iraqi special forces soldiers move on foot through an alley on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq. Photo: AP
An Iraqi officer talks to a people who just fled the Intisar district of eastern Mosul in Ali Rash, Iraq. Photo: Reuters
An Iraqi soldier is seen during a battle with Islamic State, at the front line in the Intisar district of eastern Mosul. Photo: Reuters
An Iraqi army helicopter flies over the Shahrazad district of eastern Mosul during fighting with Islamic State fighters. Photo: Reuters
A boy who just fled the Intisar district of eastern Mosul sits with his family along a road near Bartella, Iraq. Photo: Reuters
Displaced people in a convoy of cars drive away from Mosul, Iraq. Photo: AP
An Iraqi special forces sniper searches for a target on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq. Photo: AP

IsIL has been carrying out mass killings in Mosul amid a government-led offensive to retake the city, according to reports made to the UN human rights office.

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Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said the office had received reports of an incident in which Isil allegedly killed 50 of its own militants at the Ghazlani military base in Mosul "for alleged desertion".

Ms Shamdasani also told reporters that her office had reports indicating four women were killed and 17 other civilians wounded in air strikes on Wednesday in the Quds neighbourhood of eastern Mosul.

She also cited reports that Isil has been holding nearly 400 women captive in the nearby town of Tal Afar.

The updates came as heavy fighting erupted in eastern neighbourhoods of Mosul as Iraqi special forces launched an assault deeper into urban areas of the city and swung round to attack Isil militants from a second entry point in the north east.

Columns of armoured vehicles wound through open desert to open the new front, pushing through dirt embankments, drawing heavy fire and calling in air strikes to enter the middle class neighbourhoods of Tahrir and Zahara. The area was once named after former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi soldiers dance as they celebrate during a fighting with Islamic State fighters, at the front line in the Shahrazad district of eastern Mosul. Photo: Reuters
Iraqi soldiers dance as they celebrate during a fighting with Islamic State fighters, at the front line in the Shahrazad district of eastern Mosul. Photo: Reuters

Lieutenant Colonel Muhanad al-Timimi said three militants in separate explosives-laden vehicles tried to attack the troops but they were destroyed, including a bulldozer that was hit by an air strike from the US-led coalition supporting the offensive.

At least one solider was seriously wounded in the first hours of the new advance, which came under heavy fire from mortars, automatic weapons, snipers and anti-tank rockets. Commanders at the scene said his neck injury could have been the result of small arms fire or shrapnel from a mortar round.

Earlier, at the direct eastern approach to the city's urban centre, militants holed up in a building fired a rocket at an Abrams tank, disabling it and sending its crew fleeing from the smoking vehicle, seemingly unharmed. The advance in that area then stalled.

Yesterday's fighting was the most intense urban combat in Mosul since the Iraqi offensive began over two weeks ago to drive Isil from Iraq's second-largest city.

People see their relatives who had fled from Mosul at a fence surrounding Al-Khazer refugee camp, east of Mosul, Iraq. Photo: Reuters
People see their relatives who had fled from Mosul at a fence surrounding Al-Khazer refugee camp, east of Mosul, Iraq. Photo: Reuters

The early morning push began with artillery and mortar strikes on the Aden, Tahrir and Quds districts, just west of special forces footholds in the Gogjali and Karama neighbourhoods, Lt Col al-Timimi said.

Both sides opened up with small arms and mortar fire after an artillery barrage by special forces, ahead of their advance.

Isil is fighting to hold Mosul as Iraqi forces and allied Kurdish troops squeeze in from all directions with US-led coalition support, mostly from air strikes and reconnaissance.

On Tuesday, Iraqi troops entered the city limits for the first time in more than two years. Soldiers had withdrawn from Mosul in 2014 in the face of an Isil blitz that seized large areas of territory in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

Now the Iraqi forces are gearing up for urban warfare expected to take weeks, if not months, as they work their way neighbourhood by neighbourhood, going through a warren of dense buildings prone to booby traps and ambushes.

More than a million civilians are stuck in the city, complicating the military's efforts to advance without harming them.

Isil militants have driven thousands of them deeper into the city's built-up areas, apparently for use as human shields, while hundreds of others have fled in recent days towards government-controlled territory despite the uncertainty of resettlement in displacement camps.

Mosul is the last major Isil stronghold in Iraq, and expelling the militant group from it would be a major blow to the survival of its self-declared "caliphate" that stretches into Syria. When Isil seized Mosul and other territory in 2014, the much larger Iraqi military had been neglected and demoralised by corruption.

Iraqi forces have made uneven progress in closing in on the city since the operation began on October 17. Advances have been slower to the south, with government troops still 30km away, although they seized a handful of villages late last week.

Kurdish fighters and Iraqi army units are deployed to the north, while government-sanctioned Shi'ite militias are sweeping in from the west to try to cut off any Isil escape route.

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