Almost 500000 civilians fled homes since anti-IS offensive launched

Iraqi police on Sunday accused Islamic State of using chemical weapons against their forces in Mosul, but said that had not stopped them making new ground towards the militants' last stronghold in the city.

But since the bridges were closed on Friday, no aid convoy has reached the Hammam al-Alil camp, southwest of Mosul, the main arrival point for displaced fleeing the fighting, a camp and a United Nations official said.

"The sheer volume of civilians still fleeing Mosul city is staggering", Grande said.

While coalition forces have been reporting on their military advances, civilian casualties have been piling up - both at the hands of terrorists and sometimes as a result of indiscriminate shelling by the US-led coalition. Raed Shaker Jawdat said in a brief statement.

An Iraqi command spokesman said Sunday that Western Mosul's Old City district, a strategic ISIS militants' bastion, has become entirely encircled by Iraqi government forces.

Iraqi Kurdish forces were involved in the initial days of the operation but stopped short of the city, while pro-government paramilitary forces were tasked with moving on the IS-held town of Tal Afar, west of Mosul.

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"Mosul has pushed us to our operational limits", Grande said. "Already, more than 493,000 people have left, leaving nearly everything behind", she said.

"Civilians in Mosul face incredible, terrifying risks".

"Nothing is more important than protecting civilians".

The progress in the old city center is much slower than the early phases of the offensive after the troops restricted the use of bombs and increased sniper fire against terrorist militants holed up in densely populated old city center.

Iraqi forces began the country's biggest military operation in years on October 17 last year and recaptured the east side of the city in January.

About the us -led coalition's coordination with Iraqi forces in Mosul operations, al-Alusi said: "Poor weather conditions in the region have reduced airstrikes of the worldwide coalition's warplanes on Daesh-linked sites in western Mosul".

  • Megan Austin