June 5 (UPI) — The United Nations Children’s Fund on Monday said more than 100,000 children in west Mosul are in danger following reports of some being killed or used as human shields as they attempt to flee the beleaguered city.
Peter Hawkins, UNICEF representative in Iraq, said his organization is receiving “alarming reports of civilians including several children being killed in west Mosul.”
“Some were reportedly killed as they desperately tried to flee the fighting which is intensifying by the hour,” Hawkins said in a statement. “Children’s lives are on the line. Children are being killed, injured and used as human shields. Children are experiencing and witnessing terrible violence that no human being should ever witness. In some cases, they have been forced to participate in the fighting and violence.”
Iraq launched its military offensive to retake western Mosul from the Islamic State, also known as Daesh, ISIL and ISIS, on Feb. 19. The offensive to retake Mosul began Oct. 17, led by Iraqi security forces and aided by the Kurdish Peshmerga, a Shiite-led militia, and the U.S.-led international coalition. Iraq fully captured east Mosul in late January.
“An estimated 100,000 girls and boys remain in extremely dangerous conditions in the old city and other areas of west Mosul. Many are caught in the crossfire and hospitals and other medical facilities have reportedly come under attack,” Hawkins added.
Though Iraqi officials have repeatedly said they are close to fully capturing west Mosul, they have yet to declare victory against the Islamic State in what would be the most significant win against the militant Islamist group.
“As the fighting continues, UNICEF calls on all parties in west Mosul to protect children and keep them out of harm’s way at all times, in line with their obligations under humanitarian law,” Hawkins said. “Attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure including hospitals, clinics, schools, homes and water systems should stop immediately.”
UNICEF said it has established programs to unite children with their parents or extended families if they became separated. The children’s agency also said it provides legal representation for children detained by Iraqi security forces, as well as psychological and social support and other specialized child protection assistance for distressed children.