Over 100,000 civilians remain trapped behind Daesh lines in Mosul with a US-backed government offensive to recapture the Iraqi city entering its ninth month, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday.
"These civilians are basically held as human shields in the Old City," said the presiding UNHCR representative in Iraq, Bruno Geddo, referring to Mosul's historic district where the militants are besieged by Iraqi government forces.
"There is hardly any food, water, electricity, fuel. These civilians are living in increasingly worsening situation of penury and panic because they are surrounded by fighting."
The Old City "is a very dense labyrinth, a maze of alleyways where fighting will have to be done on foot, house by house," said Geddo.
Some 200,000 people were estimated to be trapped behind Daesh lines in May, but the number has since declined as government forces have thrust further into the inner city.
Since the battle to retake Mosul began nine months ago, an estimated 862,000 people have been displaced from the city, although 195,000 have since returned, mainly to the liberated east of the city.
That means 667,000 people remain displaced, nearly all of them from western Mosul, and are living in 13 camps set up by UNHCR or with host families.
Geddo said the UN agency so far had provided assistance to more than 500,000 of the displaced people, and was also attempting to help those returning to Mosul, often to live in bombed-out buildings.
The Mosul offensive
The fight in Mosul has moved into Shifa, one of the oldest parts of the city. It is one of the two last districts held by the terror group, and capturing the district would allow Iraqi forces to encircle Daesh.
The fall of Mosul would, in effect, mark the end of the Iraqi half of the "caliphate" that Daesh leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi declared in a speech from a historic mosque in the Old City three years ago, covering parts of Iraq and Syria.
The offensive to retake Mosul, Daesh’s de facto capital in Iraq, started on October 17 with key air and ground support from a US-led international coalition.
Iraqi government forces regained eastern Mosul in January, then a month later began the offensive on the western side that takes in the Old City.