Hundreds flee Falluja during Iraqi offensive

Updated 2:12 PM EDT, Fri May 27, 2016

Story highlights

Iraqi military makes gains in operation to oust ISIS from city

UN reports 50,000 residents caught between opposing fighters

CNN —  

Hundreds of residents, mostly women and children, fled Falluja Friday as Iraqi soldiers attacked to drive ISIS from the city, the Iraqi military said.

Security forces evacuated about 760 people, who escaped from the eastern and southeastern regions of Falluja, the military said.

The United Nations’ refugee agency warned that tens of thousands of people are still caught in the city as the bombardment by the Iraqi military has intensified, putting the estimated 50,000 remaining residents at extreme risk

“There are reports of a dramatic increase in the number of executions of men and older boys in Falluja (who are) refusing to fight on behalf of extremist forces,” said Leila Jane Nassif, the U.N. agency’s assistant representative in Iraq. “And many people have been killed or buried alive under the rubble of their homes in the course of ongoing military operations.

“Civilian lives should not be held hostage in this way. It is vital that safe routes are opened, allowing civilians access to safety and live-saving assistance” she added.

Iraqi forces provide safe passage

In announcing the start of the operation to recapture the city from the Islamic State Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said security forces would provide safe passage for civilians to escape.

The Iraqi government dropped leaflets and broadcast advisories with instructions on “safe corridors” to evacuate to military camps. Residents were instructed to wave white flags over their houses if they were trapped.

The U.N. refugee agency has built shelters and will provide emergency supplies to the newly displaced families, Nassif said. She also cited reports ISIS has used intimidation to stop refugees from fleeing since December by cutting off routes out of Falluja. Since then, food and medicine have been in short supply and families have had unsafe water sources.

Iraqi forces retake Karma

On Thursday, Iraqi security forces and supporting militias scored their first significant victory in the push to reclaim Falluja, when they retook the key town of Karma from ISIS, a spokesman for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said.

The recapture of Karma, about 16 kilometers (10 miles) northeast of Falluja, brings most of the territory east of Falluja under government control. The government suffered heavy casualties during the last year trying to retake Karma.

Shiite militias known as the Popular Mobilization Units and an air campaign by the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, are backing the Iraqi government troops in the offensive.

Falluja, which is about 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Baghdad, and Mosul are the last two Iraqi cities under the Sunni terror group’s control.

Falluja fell in January 2014, becoming the first Iraqi city that ISIS captured.