Fears for thousands of residents trapped with Isis fighters in shrinking area of Mosul's Old City

The battle for Mosul is in its final days, with Iraqi army units forcing Isis fighters back into a shrinking rectangle in the Old City. Desperate to hold onto their territory, the jihadists are sending out more and more suicide bombers as they fight to the death in their doomed last stand.

Thousands of residents are believed to be trapped in the area with little food, water or medicine, and are effectively being used as human shields. "Our problem is the families. They are using them as human shields. Some carry children in their arms," said Ali Adnan Ali, a police officer. The residents who have managed to escape through alleyways near the Grand al-Nuri Mosque, which Isis fighters blew up, are often wounded, thirsty and exhausted.

Harrowing photos show dust-covered families carrying injured relatives across the piles of rubble and twisted metal that block the city's narrow streets, and Iraqi forces rescuing a little boy whose family had been killed in the fighting.

Iraqi civilians pick their way over the rubble clogging the streets as they flee the Old City of MosulMartyn Aim/Corbis via Getty Images
A woman and her children flee the Old City of Mosul where heavy fighting continues as Iraqi forces continue to encounter stiff resistance from Isls fightersMartyn Aim/Corbis via Getty Images
A member of the Counter-Terrorism Services carries Omar, a wounded young Iraqi boy whose family was killed in the ongoing battle to oust Isis from the Old City of MosulAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Omar, who lost his family in the ongoing battles between government forces and Isis fighters, sits with members of the Counter Terrorism Services after they helped him to flee the Old City of MosulAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Iraqis rest while carrying a wounded man as they flee the Old City of MosulAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
A member of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service carries a wounded girl away from the fighting in the Old City of MosulAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP

With its territory shrinking fast, the group has stepped up suicide attacks, using female suicide bombers hidden among civilians with instructions to blow themselves up the moment they reach soldiers. Lt Col Salam Hussein, of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces, said seven women blew themselves up on Monday (3 July) alone. "Thank god our units stopped these women suicide bombers. Some women exploded themselves on fleeing families. This is an evil and cowardly attempt by terrorists to inflict the greatest losses on civilians and security forces."

On Sunday, a male suicide bomber dressed in a woman's veil killed 14 people and wounded 13 others in a displacement camp west of the capital Baghdad known as Kilo 60. Isis claimed responsibility.

As the streets in this area are too narrow for tanks and armoured vehicles, Iraqi forces are advancing on foot, house by house, room by room, inch by inch. Snipers are a constant threat, so troops move through holes in walls inside the abandoned buildings. Out on open ground, they hope to outrun the sniper.

Smoke rises in the distance as members of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service advance in the Old City of MosulAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Members of the Emergency Response Division take cover in damaged buildings in the Old City of Mosul for Isis militantsAhmed Jadallah/Reuters
Smoke rises from an air strike during the ongoing battle against Isis militants in the Old City of MosulAhmed Jadallah/Reuters

The number of Isis fighters in Mosul has dwindled from thousands at the start of the government offensive more than eight months ago to a couple of hundred now, according to the Iraqi military.

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