'Kill all Isil fighters to stop influx into Syria' - Russia
Published 20/10/2016 | 02:30
The head of Russia's General Staff has said Moscow was concerned that Isil militants holed up in the Iraqi city of Mosul might escape to Syria, and said they should be killed on the spot instead.
"It's essential not to chase the terrorists from one country to another, but to destroy them on the spot," Valery Gerasimov said.
Iraqi government forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters are approaching Mosul as part of a plan to take back the city that has been controlled by radical Sunni group Isil since 2014.
Last night, a senior Iraqi general called on Iraqis fighting for Isil in Mosul to surrender as a wide-scale operation to retake the militant-held city entered its third day.
Lt Gen Talib Shaghati told reporters at a military base that up to 6,000 Isil fighters are inside the city.
He did not say how many of them are foreigners.
Isil captured Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, in a lightning advance in the summer of 2014.
The extremist group has suffered a string of defeats over the past year and Mosul is its last major urban bastion in Iraq.
So far, the militants have put up fierce resistance in villages surrounding the city, where most of the fighting has been concentrated.
Isil has sent trucks loaded with explosives towards the front lines and fired mortars to slow the Iraqi forces' advance.
An Iraqi officer from the 9th Division said his troops were now around 1km away from Hamdaniyah, a historically Christian town also known as Bakhdida, to the east of Mosul.
Over the past day, Isil sent 12 car bombs, all of which were blown up before reaching their targets, he said, adding that Iraqi troops suffered a small number of casualties from the mortar rounds.
The operation to retake Mosul is the largest launched by the Iraqi army since the 2003 US-led invasion.
Some 25,000 troops, including Sunni tribal fighters, Kurdish forces known as the peshmerga, and state-sanctioned Shiite militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Units are approaching the city from different directions.
The participation of the Shiite militias has raised concerns that the campaign could inflame sectarian tensions.
Rights groups have accused the Shiite militias of abuses in past campaigns against Isil-held areas.
In a bid to alleviate those concerns, Shiite militia leaders announced that they will only focus on capturing the mostly Shiite town of Tal Afar to the west of Mosul, and not enter the city itself.
"The only troops who will enter Mosul are the army and police, not the Popular Mobilisation Units or the peshmerga," said Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of the Badr Brigade, one of the largest Shiite militias.
Amnesty International said in a report that Iraqi government and paramilitary forces detained, tortured or killed hundreds of Sunni Arab civilians fleeing Isil-held areas during the operation to retake the Sunni city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, earlier this year.
Meanwhile, an aid group has said thousands of Iraqis are fleeing to Syria in order to escape the fighting around Mosul.
Save the Children said that 5,000 people have arrived at the al-Hol camp in north-eastern Syria from the area in the last 10 days, with 1,000 more waiting to enter at the border.
The group said the camp was ill-equipped to receive the refugees, and said it was "littered with waste and faeces, with a looming risk of outbreaks of disease".
It said there were just 16 latrines shared by more than 9,000 people.
Tarik Kadir, head of Save the Children's response to the Mosul crisis, said that "conditions there are among the worst we've seen, and we expect thousands more people to be on their way soon".