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Mosul battle: Over 120 civilians killed in six days

شعار Al Jazeera Al Jazeera 01/06/2017
More than 750,000 people have been displaced since the start of the Mosul operation [Youssef Boudlal/Reuters] © Provided by Al Jazeera More than 750,000 people have been displaced since the start of the Mosul operation [Youssef Boudlal/Reuters]

More than 120 civilians, mostly women and children, have been killed in less than a week while trying to flee western Mosul, according to military sources, as the Iraqi army seeks to close in on ISIL fighters in the armed group's last stronghold in Iraq.

More than seven months into a massive US-backed operation to retake Iraq's second city, security forces have recaptured all but a handful of areas of Mosul from ISIL.

Yet, hundreds of thousands of civilians may be trapped in those still held by the group, which seized Mosul in the summer of 2014.

Six days into a new assault on ISIL's remaining pockets of territory, the Iraqi army and their allies have progressed slower than what they expected, Al Jazeera's Osama bin Javaid, reporting from Erbil in northern Iraq, said.

"They are facing fierce resistance from ISIL fighters," he said, adding that the civilian death toll had risen to 122 amid the heavy clashes.

"Seventy civilians were reported to have died due to an air strike on Tuesday. It was not clear if it was Iraqi army or coalition forces who conducted the air strike," Javaid said.

750,000 displaced

Most of the civilians are in the Old City which lies immediately south of where the current fighting is taking place.

The area, a warren of narrow streets and closely-spaced buildings, has posed a major challenge for security forces, and the coming battle to retake it poses a major threat to civilians.

"There are densely populated neighbourhoods," Javaid said. 

"Streets upon streets of people who are living in the besieged areas of Mosul. Around 200,000 people live there and ISIL uses them as human shields." 

More than 750,000 people have been displaced since the start of the Mosul operation in October, according to the UN, and that figure could increase sharply in the final stages of the battle for the city.

Around 150,000 of the displaced have since returned to their homes.

RELATED: ISIL fighters seal off Mosul mosque for last stand

The Mosul offensive has taken much longer than expected, with Iraqi government advances slowed by the need to avoid civilian casualties.

The fall of the city would, in effect, mark the end of the Iraqi half of the ''caliphate'' declared in 2014 over parts of Iraq and Syria by ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in speech from a landmark mosque in Mosul's old city.

In Syria, Kurdish forces backed by US air raids are besieging ISIL forces in the city of Raqqa, the group's de facto capital in that country.

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