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UN, Amnesty Call For More Efforts to Protect Mosul Civilians

The United Nations and Amnesty International called Tuesday for greater efforts to protect civilians in west Mosul, where the UN said over 300 were killed since mid-February.

AFP

Updated:March 28, 2017, 9:47 PM IST
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UN, Amnesty Call For More Efforts to Protect Mosul Civilians
Displaced Iraqis wait to get food supplies as Iraqi forces battle with Islamic State militants, in western Mosul, Iraq March 28, 2017. (Photo: REUTERS)
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Mosul, Iraq: The United Nations and Amnesty International called Tuesday for greater efforts to protect civilians in west Mosul, where the UN said over 300 were killed since mid-February.

Hundreds of thousands more civilians are still inside west Mosul, caught up in deadly fighting between the Islamic State group and Iraqi forces battling to retake the area from the jihadists.

West Mosul is both smaller and more densely populated than the city's east, meaning that this stage of the battle poses a greater danger to civilians than those that came before.

More than 300 civilians have been killed in west Mosul since February 17, UN rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said.

IS has targeted civilians and used them as human shields, while strikes by anti-IS forces have also left civilians dead.

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called on Iraqi and US-led coalition forces "to undertake an urgent review of tactics to ensure that the impact on civilians is reduced to an absolute minimum."

IS's "strategy of using children, men and women to shield themselves from attack is cowardly and disgraceful. It breaches the most basic standards of human dignity and morality," he said.

Amnesty's Donatella Rovera said field research in east Mosul -- which was recaptured from IS in January -- showed "an alarming pattern of US-led coalition air strikes which have destroyed whole houses with entire families inside".

"The high civilian toll suggests that coalition forces... have failed to take adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths, in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law," she said.

In the east, the Iraqi forces adopted a strategy of encouraging civilians to stay at home, dropping leaflets into the city with safety instructions for residents.

"The fact that Iraqi authorities repeatedly advised civilians to remain at home instead of fleeing the area, indicates that coalition forces should have known that these strikes were likely to result in a significant numbers of civilian casualties," Rovera said.

Jihadists deployed among civilians

Amnesty quoted Waad Ahmad al-Tai, an east Mosul resident, as saying six members of his extended family -- including his nine-year-old son and three-year-old daughter -- were killed after they followed government advice not to flee the city.

"We heard these instructions on the radio... Also leaflets were dropped by planes. This is why we stayed in our homes," he said.

Amnesty said that, in many cases it investigated, east Mosul residents said IS fighters had been present in or near houses targeted in the strikes.

In one case, five members of a family and their neighbour were killed in a raid on a house where IS fighters were hiding but the jihadists survived that attack, Amnesty quoted survivors as saying.

That pattern has also been repeated in west Mosul, according to witnesses.

Two witnesses who have now fled the city said that a building with around 170 people inside was destroyed in the Mosul al-Jadida area.

One of them said that IS snipers had fired on Iraqi forces, after which an aircraft targeted them with a missile.

Another man said that IS placed snipers atop a house where he was residing with more than 20 relatives.

He was told that an air strike hit the house, an attack he survived because he was away at the time.

The coalition has indicated that it may have been responsible for civilian deaths in west Mosul, saying that it bombed an area on march 17 where civilian casualties were reported, and has launched an investigation.

On Sunday, the top commander for US military forces in the Middle East said they would investigate the incident and "continue to take extraordinary measures to avoid harming civilians".

Iraq is also investigating civilian deaths in west Mosul, but has sought to place the blame on IS.

More than 200,000 civilians have fled west Mosul since the battle for the area began, according to Iraqi authorities.

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