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Families flee Mosul as Iraqi troops close in on ISIL

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By Euronews  with AP, REUTERS
Families flee Mosul as Iraqi troops close in on ISIL

Hundreds of civilians fled Mosul’s Old City on Friday (June 30) as US-backed Iraqi forces engaged in fierce fighting with die-hard Islamic State militants making their final stand in the country’s second-largest city.

Families streamed through alleyways near the Grand al-Nuri Mosque, where ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the group’s so-called caliphate in 2014 and which ISIL fighters reportedly blew up a week ago as Iraqi forces closed in.

Authorities say they’re just days away from fully retaking the city but the battle is a tough one, with pockets of fighters and snipers dug in among civilians.

This week’s capture of the mosque by government troops was a major victory, and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared on Thursday the end of ISIL’s self-proclaimed caliphate.

But the eight months of fighting have taken a huge toll on the people of Mosul. Thousands of civilians have been killed, according to aid organizations, and the International Organisation for Migration estimates close to 900,00 people – about half the city’s pre-war population – have fled since the offensive started last October. The Iraqi government had initially pledged the city would be liberated in 2016.

Families displaced by fighting have been fleeing to Salamiyah 2 camp, south east of Mosul, according to the United Nations’ Refugee agency. That camp can take in around 60,000 people and is now almost full.

Those who managed to escape say countless more civilians are still trapped in Mosul with very little food supplies, water or medical help.

ISIL hit back in Syria

The capture of Mosul would mark the end of the Iraqi half of the caliphate, although the group still controls territory west and south of the city, ruling over hundreds of thousands of people.

In neighbouring Syria, parts of which ISIL says fall under its self-proclaimed caliphate, the militant group launched a counter-attack against an alliance of militias trying to oust it from its de facto capital of Raqqa.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the group had retaken most of the industrial district of Raqqa after mounting a fierce counter-attack against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias.

The SDF, the U.S. backed alliance in Syria, acknowledged in its social media feed that there had been intense clashes, but added that the whole industrial district was still in its hands and the attack had been thwarted.

Even though ISIL is under pressure in its urban strongholds in Iraq and Syria, its fighters still occupy an area as big as Belgium across the two countries, according to one estimate.