'Chemical agents' used on civilians fleeing Mosul
The number of civilians escaping the fighting in Mosul has increased significantly as battles intensify between US-backed Iraqi forces and Isil militants, and some have been exposed to chemical agents, the Red Cross said yesterday.
Iraqi armed forces meanwhile said they had captured another district as they push toward the densely packed old city centre where the fighting is expected to become tougher.
Among casualties in the past 48 hours, five children and two women were treated for exposure to chemical agents, suffering blisters, eye redness, vomiting and coughing, said the International Committee of the Red Cross. The US has warned Isil could use sulphur mustard agents to repel the offensive on the northern Iraqi city.
Iraqi forces captured the eastern side of Mosul in January after 100 days of fighting and launched their attack on the districts that lie west of the Tigris river on February 19.
Defeating Isil in Mosul would crush the Iraqi wing of the caliphate declared in 2014, although the group is expected to continue a campaign of insurgent attacks.
The Iraqi military believes several thousand militants, including many foreigners, are hunkered down in Mosul among the remaining civilian population, which aid agencies estimated to number 750,000 at the start of the latest phase of the battle. The battle for Mosul has killed and wounded several thousand people since it started on October 17.
"We have noted a significant increase in displacement in the last week, 30,000 in west Mosul, 4,000 a day or so," Matthew Saltmarsh, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, told a news briefing in Geneva.
"Of course the military fighting is intensifying by the day," Bastien Vigneau, the emergency director for Mosul operations at Unicef, told the briefing.
Speaking from Erbil, east of Mosul, he said over 100,000 children are among the 191,000 who have been displaced in total from the city since October.
Among them, Unicef identified 874 children who were unaccompanied or separated. More than half have been reunited with parents, and the rest are being taken care of by extended family.
Militants are using suicide car bombers, snipers and booby traps to counter the offensive waged by the 100,000-strong force of Iraqi troops, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Iranian-trained Shi'ite Muslim paramilitary groups.