Thousands flee anti-IS offensives in Iraq, Syria

MOSUL: Tens of thousands of civilians have fled offensives against the IS group in Iraq and Syria, where the fighters are battling to keep what remains of their territory, the UN said Sunday.
IS overran large areas of both countries in 2014, declaring a “caliphate” in territory it controlled, but the fighter group has since lost ground to Iraqi forces and faced advances from different groups in Syria.
Amid intense fighting in recent days, the thousands of displaced have been seen arriving in areas outside IS control, many hungry and terrified after years under fighter rule.
In Iraq, the offensive by US-backed Iraqi forces to retake west Mosul from IS has displaced more than 45,000 people in little more than a week, the UN migration agency said.
In neighbouring Syria, more than 26,000 people have been forced to flee fighting in the country’s north in the same period from February 25, UN humanitarian agency OCHA said.
In Syria, OCHA said 26,000 people had fled areas where government forces backed by Russian air power have been waging a fierce offensive against IS.
Those areas lie east of the town of Al Bab, which Turkey-backed rebels seized from IS on February 23 after several months of fighting in another advance on the fighter group.
The UN agency said the nearly 40,000 people displaced from the town since November fled north to areas controlled by other rebel forces.
Many have sought refuge in areas around Manbij, a town controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. An AFP correspondent in Manbij said that long queues of families were still forming at checkpoints leading to the town on Sunday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said Saturday that 30,000 people had been displaced by the government’s offensive on IS.
— AFP