Starving, exhausted and traumatised, civilians flee Mosul's Old City, but thousands still trapped

Starving, exhausted and traumatised, civilians continue to emerge from the rubble of Mosul's Old City. Since the final assault to clear Isis from the city began a week ago, thousands of residents have reached the safety of a government-held area. However, many thousands more remain trapped in the city, packed in tightly together with the militants.

A member of the Counter Terrorism Service carries a baby in the Old City of MosulAlaa al-Marjani/Reuters
A bottle of water is handed over to a man who fled the fighting in the Old City of MosulFadel Senna/AFP
A woman and children flee the Old City of MosulFadel Senna/AFP
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
Members of the Counter Terrorism Service help an elderly woman in the Old City of MosulAlaa al-Marjani/Reuters
Iraqi forces carry an injured man onto a vehicle in the Old City of MosulFadel Senna/AFP
Mosul residents react at seeing the Grand al-Nuri Mosque in ruinsAlaa al-Marjani/Reuters

Iraqi forces advancing on foot, house by house, have found terrified families who had been hiding in their homes for weeks as fierce fighting raged around them.

A member of the Iraqi forces helps a family flee their home in Mosul's Old CityAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
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

The presence of civilians has led Iraqi forces to slow their advance into the last Isis-controlled pocket of Mosul. "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. A commander from the Rapid Response Division estimated there are 10,000 civilians, including some brought in as human shields. Half of those still in the Old City are believed to be children.

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Civilians trapped inside the besieged city, where temperatures have soared to 45 degrees Celsius, have little food, water or medicine. "Civilians have no food, no clean water, and Isis is hoarding all the good food," said one man who managed to flee with just the clothes he was wearing.

The Iraqi military has pushed insurgents into a shrinking rectangle no more than 300 by 500 metres beside the Tigris river, but the resistance has been fierce. The Old City is a maze of narrow alleyways planted with multiple explosive devices by the militants, who are also using drones and suicide bombings.

On Tuesday (4 July) Iraqi commanders called in air strikes on targets just 50 metres away from them. Fighting got close enough at one point for the militants to throw a hand grenade at the troops.

Members of the Emergency Response Division and journalists take cover as a hand grenade explodes nearbyAhmed Jadallah/Reuters
Members of the Emergency Response Division take cover during the fight with Islamic State militants in the Old City of MosulAhmed Jadallah/Reuters
An Emergency Response Division vehicle opens fire in a clash with Islamic States militants in the Old City of MosulAhmed Jadallah/Reuters
Members of the Emergency Response Division take cover as they advance in the Old City of MosulAhmed Jadallah/Reuters
Iraqi forces continue their offensive to retake the city from Islamic StateFadel Senna/AFP
A member of Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Services, wearing a superman T-shirt, walks in the Old City of MosulFadel Senna/AFP

The number of militants fighting in Mosul has dwindled from thousands at the start of the US-backed offensive more than eight months ago to a couple of hundred now, according to the Iraqi military.

An Iraqi soldier sits on a tank with a man alleged to be a member of IsisFadel Senna/AFP
A body is seen lying on a street in the Old City of MosulAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP

Months of grinding urban warfare have displaced 900,000 people, about half the city's pre-war population, and killed thousands, according to aid organisations.

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