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Iraqi general calls on IS militants in Mosul to surrender as thousands flee

wide-scale operation: Smoke rises from Islamic state positions after an airstrike by coalition forces in Mosul on Tuesday Picture: AP
Qassim Abdul-Zahra

A SENIOR Iraqi general has called on Iraqis fighting for Islamic State 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 IS fighters are inside the city. He did not say how many of them are foreigners.

IS 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.

IS 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 one kilometre (half a mile) away from Hamdaniyah, a historically Christian town also known as Bakhdida, to the east of Mosul.

Over the past day, IS 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.

Thousands of people have fled the area to avoid the fighting according to an aid group.

Save the Children said that 5,000 people have arrived at the al-Hol camp in north-eastern Syria from the Mosul area in the last 10 days, with 1,000 more waiting to enter at the border.

The group said the camp is ill-equipped to receive the refugees, saying it is "littered with waste and faeces, with a looming risk of outbreaks of disease".

It said there are just 16 toilets shared by more than 9,000 people, many of whom only have access to dirty, untreated water.

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".

Mosul, which fell to IS in 2014, is still home to more than a million civilians.

Meanwhile, a Turkish official said between 100,000 and 400,000 people could flee the fighting in Mosul and make their way towards Syria, Iraq's Kurdish-administrated region or the border with Turkey.

Kerem Kinik, head of the Turkish Red Crescent organisation, said the "humanitarian aspect" of the Mosul operation had not been well thought out by the coalition forces.

He warned that with more than three million people already displaced in Iraq, officials would struggle to cope with the exodus.

Mr Kinik said his organisation was working with officials in northern Iraq and the Iraqi Red Crescent to help support humanitarian efforts there.

Some 20 Turkish aid trucks had been dispatched to the region.

New camps for up to 20,000 families are under construction by international aid agencies in northern Iraq and could be ready within a week.

The Turkish official said he believes the refugees would mostly be "taken under control" within Iraq, but added that Turkey is prepared for a refugee influx.

Iraqi authorities have called on people to remain in their homes but are also preparing humanitarian corridors for them to escape the fighting.

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