At least seven civilians were killed and 23 wounded by ISIS mortar shells as they tried to flee Mosul’s militant-controlled Zanjili district on Thursday, Iraqi police said.
Zanjili is part of the enclave that remains in the hands of ISIS in the northern Iraqi city, alongside the Old City center and the Medical City hospitals complex.
US-backed Iraqi government forces retook eastern Mosul in January and began a new push on Saturday to capture the enclave where about 200,000 people are trapped, regularly dropping leaflets telling families to flee.
The wounded from Zanjili were taken to a field clinic, a police officer told Reuters, adding that more people could have been killed while trying to flee. They were part of the first group of civilians who have managed to escape.
Several dozen other civilians managed to reach government-held lines unhurt, using the same exit route, the officer said.
The population in ISIS-held enclave live in harrowing conditions, running low on food, water and medicine, and with limited access to hospitals, the United Nations said on Sunday.
Militants move prisoners
The militants began moving their prisoners out of the Medical City district as Iraqi forces advanced on them, two residents speaking by phone said, asking not to be identified.
ISIS used basements in the Medical City as jails for former army and police officers and also people violating a code of conduct which forbids such activities as selling cigarettes and smoking.
The militants ordered dozens of families living in Zanjili district to move into the Old City to prevent them escaping towards the Iraqi forces, a resident told Reuters on Wednesday.
The Mosul offensive, now in its eighth month, 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 ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in speech from a historic mosque in Mosul’s old city.
In Syria, Kurdish forces backed by US-air strikes are besieging ISIS forces in the city of Raqqa, the militants' de facto capital in that country.
The militants have been countering the offensive with suicide car and motorbike bombs, snipers, booby-traps and mortar fire.
About 700,000 people, about a third of the pre-war city’s population, have already fled, seeking refuge either with friends and relatives or in camps.
Mosul’s Grand al-Nuri Mosque
Earlier Thursday, ISIS militants have closed the streets around Mosul’s Grand al-Nuri Mosque, residents said, apparently in preparation for a final showdown in the battle over their last major stronghold in Iraq.
Dozens of fighters were seen by residents taking up positions in the past 48 hours around the medieval mosque, the site where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared an Islamist caliphate in July 2014.
ISIS’s black flag has been flying from the mosque since the militants captured Mosul and seized swathes of Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2014.