50,000 Iraqi civilians ‘at great risk’ in Fallujah

Fighters from Iraqi Shiite group Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada gather near Falluja, Iraq, May 23, 2016. (Reuters)

The United Nations called Monday for "safe corridors" to be set up to allow Iraqi civilians to flee a military offensive against ISIS in Fallujah.

Some 50,000 civilians in the city are at "great risk" during a campaign against ISIS fighters by the Iraqi army backed by militias, said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

"One of the problems is that civilians are under grave danger as they try to flee," he said.

"It is important that they have some safe corridors they could use."

Iraqi forces on Monday launched an offensive to retake Fallujah, which became an ISIS stronghold after its fighters seized the city in January 2014.

The UN spokesman said some civilians were able to flee and were receiving emergency assistance, shelter and water, but he did not provide figures.

Women and children were taken to a location south of Fallujah and men to central Anbar for security screening, said the spokesman.

The United Nations is "very concerned" about the fate of civilians and mobilizing its aid partners to assess the situation and send help, he added.

On Sunday, Iraq's Joint Operations Command warned civilians still in the city to leave.

It urged families that could not depart to raise a white flag over their location and stay away from ISIS headquarters and gatherings.

Fallujah and Mosul, the capital of the northern province of Nineveh, are the last two major cities ISIS holds in Iraq.

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