Thousands escape ISIL in Iraq and Syria

Safe corridor allows civilians to flee Fallujah while ISIL face loss of key north Syria base

Powered by automated translation

BAGHDAD // A secure corridor established by the Iraqi army has allowed 4,000 civilians safe passage out of the extremist-held city of Fallujah in 24 hours. Hundreds of civilians on Sunday also escaped from Manbij, an ISIL stronghold in northern Syria, as the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) encircled the town.

The safe passage out of Fallujah leads south-west through the Al-Salam intersection along a road where ISIL killed at least 18 members of two families as they attempted to escape on Friday. Around 24,000 people have fled from ISIL since Iraqi forces launch an offensive on Fallujah on May 22 but very few have been able to leave the centre of the city where the fanatics are using civilians as human shields.

“The latest figure we have is that 4,000 individuals have managed to get out over the past 24 hours,” said Karl Schembri of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), one of the groups organising the relief effort. “We are of course relieved, but it also means we are completely overwhelmed as a humanitarian community.”

Before the safe passage was opened on Saturday, the NRC estimated that 50,000 civilians were trapped inside Fallujah Many were prepared to risk walking along mined roads or drowning in the river Euphrates river in their desperation to get away. ISIL smugglers demanded $100 per person from the escapees to guide them away from bombs and booby traps. Fridays’s massacre, which also left many wounded, is the worst -known incident so far. Th 18 dead, all from the Albu Hatem and Albu Saleh families, were among around 100 people who were trying to leave ISIL territory. Most were women and children.

“When they got near the intersection, which is the meeting point with the Iraqi forces, two gunmen on motorbikes arrived and sprayed them with gunfire,” said Ahmed Al-Ghneim, a relative of the victims.” “Some jumped into the canal, some fled to a nearby house. When they entered it, it blew up on them because it was booby-trapped. Some survivors were forced to go back inside Fallujah. Daesh took 17 of the wounded to Fallujah hospital.”

Another relative, Sami Abu Hatem, said a man with two young children were among those killed by ISIL. “This is a major crime, it’s a massacre, entire families are being eliminated,” he said.

Irqi forces have been making slow but steady progress to capture the city from ISIL and the aid agencies in the area expect more civilians to arrive from Fallujah in the coming days.

Meanwhile in northern Syria, around 600 civilians were able to flee the town of Manbij which is held under siege by ISIL. With US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) encircling the town, they were able to escape on foot, according the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The SDF were able to meet the escapees south of Manbij and transport them to safer areas. The potential loss of Manbij is a major blow to ISIL as the town lies on a key supply route. Civilians still inside Manbij are now caught in a fierce battle for control of the town. ISIL have launched a counteroffensive and the SDF alliance of Arab and Kurdish troops is retaliating with heavy air strikes. Food is already running short as all roads into the town re blocked. .

At least 223 IS fighters and 28 SDF troops have been killed, plus 41 civilians in coalition air raids, since the alliance offensive against Manbij began on May 31, according to the Observatory.

* Associated Press