by WorldTribune Staff, May 31, 2016
Iraqi forces launched an offensive on Fallujah on May 31 but were stopped by a counter-attack by Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) at the city’s southern gates, reports say.
Soldiers from the elite Rapid Response Team stopped their advance about 500 meters from the al-Shuhada district in the city’s southeast, an army commander said.
“Our forces came under heavy fire, they are well dug in in trenches and tunnels,” said the commander, speaking in Camp Tariq, the rear army base south of Fallujah, 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Baghdad.
Baghdad says retaking the city would be a turning point in the U.S.-backed campaign to defeat ISIL, giving the government control of the main population centers in the Euphrates River valley west of the capital for the first time in more than two years.
Meanwhile, the United Nations warned of the dire situation for the 50,000 civilians believed trapped in the city, many being used as human shields.
“A human catastrophe is unfolding in Fallujah. Families are caught in the crossfire with no safe way out,” said Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), one of the organizations helping families displaced from the city.
“Warring parties must guarantee civilians safe exit now, before it’s too late and more lives are lost,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the NRC in Baghdad told CBC News the remaining citizens in Fallujah have “not had any access to food, water, there’s no medicine, there’s no electricity. There’s no fuel. They’ve had to survive on dried dates. Some have found rotten yogurt and rice. And the only drinking water is hot water from the river.”