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DISASTER MANAGEMENT
Thousands flee anti-IS offensives in Iraq and Syria
By Tony Gamal-Gabriel with Delil Souleiman in Manbij
Mosul, Iraq (AFP) March 5, 2017


Over 45,000 displaced by west Mosul fighting: IOM
Baghdad (AFP) March 5, 2017 - The battle to retake west Mosul from the Islamic State group has pushed more than 45,000 people to flee, the International Organisation for Migration said on Sunday.

Iraqi forces launched a major push to recapture west Mosul from IS on February 19, retaking the airport and then pushing up into the city from the south.

The IOM figures indicate the number of people who came from west Mosul to sites for the displaced from February 25, when the arrivals began, through Sunday.

More than 17,000 people arrived from west Mosul on February 28 alone, while over 13,000 came on March 3, according to the IOM.

IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes and other support have since regained most of the territory they lost.

Iraqi forces launched the operation to recapture Mosul on October 17, retaking its eastern side in January before setting their sights on the smaller but more densely-populated west.

While the feared exodus of a million or more people from Mosul has yet to materialise, the IOM says that more than 200,000 are currently displaced as a result of the operation, while more fled but later returned to their homes.

Tens of thousands of civilians have fled offensives against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, where the jihadists 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 jihadist group has since lost ground to Iraqi forces and faced advances from different groups in Syria.

Amid intense fighting in recent days, tens of thousands of displaced have been seen arriving in areas outside IS control, many hungry and terrified after years under jihadist 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.

Before the battle for Mosul was launched in October, a million-plus civilians were thought to still live inside Iraq's second city, which is IS's last major bastion in the country.

Iraqi forces backed by US air strikes in January retook the eastern side of the city, which is divided by the Tigris River, before setting their sights on its smaller but more densely populated west.

They launched a major push to recapture west Mosul from IS on February 19, retaking the airport and then pushing up into the city from the south.

Families escaping the battle for west Mosul have arrived in droves at sites for the displaced in the past week, the International Organization for Migration said.

On Saturday, Iraq's minister of displacement and migration criticised UN-led efforts to aid those displaced by the fighting, while the UN said that such assistance is the "top priority".

More than 200,000 are currently displaced as a result of the Mosul operation, while more fled but later returned to their homes, IOM said.

- 'Left with nothing' -

In Syria, OCHA said 26,000 people had fled areas in the northern province of Aleppo 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 jihadist 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.

Pick-up trucks full of children and women wearing full black veils were being searched by SDF personnel before being allowed to enter.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said Saturday that 30,000 people had been displaced by the government's offensive on IS.

The push is aimed at IS-held Khafsah, the main station pumping water into Aleppo.

Residents of Syria's second city, under full regime control since December, have been without mains water for 48 days after the jihadists cut the supply.

On Sunday, Russian and regime warplanes bombarded IS positions in support of Syrian troops, which had advanced to around 11 kilometres (seven miles) from Khafsah, the Observatory said.

It said twin suicide attacks, both claimed by IS, killed 15 people on Sunday in Aleppo province.

A car bomb near the IS-held town of Deir Hafer, which lies between Aleppo city and Khafsah, killed eight pro-regime fighters, the monitor said.

In a second attack in the rebel-held town of Azaz, a suicide bomber killed seven fighters.

Since war broke out in Syria in March 2011, more than half of its pre-war population has been forced to flee their homes.

Aleppo province hosts tens of thousands of displaced Syrians, many in camps near the Turkish border.

"We left our homes with nothing: no fuel, no bread. Our children are starving," said Jumana, a 25-year old Syrian woman who fled the clashes with her two children.

Turkey launched an unprecedented military campaign inside Syria in August, backing opposition rebels to fight IS. But it views the Syrian Kurds who lead the SDF as "terrorists".

The SDF are pressing an advance towards retaking the group's de-facto capital of Raqa, backed by a US-led coalition that has been carrying out air strikes in Syria and Iraq since 2014.

Iraq minister criticises UN efforts for Mosul displaced
Baghdad (AFP) March 4, 2017 - An Iraqi minister on Saturday sharply criticised UN efforts to aid civilians fleeing fighting in west Mosul, even as the United Nations insisted that providing such assistance was the "top priority".

Tens of thousands of people have fled west Mosul since Iraqi forces launched an operation to retake it from the Islamic State jihadist group on February 19, pushing into the area from the south.

"Unfortunately, there is a clear shortfall in the work of these (UN) organisations," said Jassem Mohammed al-Jaff, the minister of displacement and migration.

Asked to elaborate, Jaff said: "The United Nations talks a lot but the efforts being made are little, despite the huge amount of money in their possession."

More than 50,000 people have fled west Mosul since the push to retake it was launched, Jaff said.

The UN, which has been providing shelter, food and other assistance to Iraqis who have fled Mosul during the nearly five-month-long battle, said it is working as fast as possible to help those displaced.

"The top priority for humanitarians is to make sure that there is sufficient capacity at emergency sites to deal with the number of civilians who are fleeing western Mosul," said Lise Grande, the UN's humanitarian coordinator in Iraq.

"In the past several weeks, we have been rushing to... construct that capacity, and we are redoubling our efforts now," Grande said.

IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes and other assistance have since regained most of the territory they lost to the jihadists.

The battle to retake Mosul -- the last IS-held city in Iraq -- was launched on October 17.

More than 190,000 people are currently displaced as a result of the battle for Mosul, while more fled but have since returned to their homes, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

Iraqi forces recaptured east Mosul in January, and have now set their sights on the smaller but more densely-populated western side of the city.

DISASTER MANAGEMENT
115 migrants rescued, 25 missing: Libya navy
Tripoli (AFP) March 3, 2017
The Libyan navy said it rescued 115 migrants Friday headed for Europe whose overloaded rubber boat was sinking off the coast near Tripoli, and that another 25 people were missing. "We rescued 115 illegal immigrants, six of them women, all African nationals except for a Bangladeshi," navy spokesman General Ayoub Qassem told AFP. Qassem said the survivors told of 140 passengers on board th ... read more

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