Iraqi civilians fleeing the city of Fallujah have been shot at by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters who are holed up in the besieged city, an international aid group told Al Jazeera.
Nasr Muflahi, country director of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), confirmed several such incidents based on testimonies from civilians who were directly targeted by ISIL gunmen on Sunday.
Civilians who manage to leave the central city are received in camps set up by the government and the UN, where they get basic medical care, Muflahi said.
Fighters battling to retake Fallujah from ISIL say they have secured its southern edge and have almost completely encircled the city.
A leader of the Iran-backed Shia coalition taking part in the offensive said on Sunday the only side of Fallujah that remained to be secured by pro-Baghdad forces was part of the western bank of the Euphrates.
“We are now at the gates of Fallujah,” Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy leader of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, told a news conference broadcast on state TV.
People fleeing Fallujah have been using anything that floats to help them get across the river, which is about 250 to 300 metres wide at the crossing point in farmland just south of the city.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, confirmed that several people, including children, have drowned while trying cross the river.
About 50,000 civilians live in Fallujah, 50km from Baghdad, with limited access to water, food and healthcare, according to a UN estimate.
Meanwhile, sources told Al Jazeera that scores of Iraqi men from Fallujah were arrested by security forces and Iranian-backed militias, who subjected them to abuse.
A video surfaced online showing members of the militias hitting the men lying on the ground, taunting and verbally abusing them.
Caroline Gluck, a spokesperson for the UNHCR, said Iraqi and Iranian-backed militias have been detaining men for “screening”, but said many of those arrested have returned to rejoin their families.
Civilians in dire need
Becky Abdulla, a spokeswoman for the NRC, told Al Jazeera that people fleeing the area are “desperate” and “in dire need of help”.
So far about 18,000 people have fled from towns and villages around Fallujah, according to the NRC.
Many of those fleeing are families with young children, who are often traumatised by the fighting, Abdulla said.
“We are only providing them with the bare minimum because we are stretched,” she said, adding that some of the displaced haven’t had proper meals in months.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on June 1 the offensive on Fallujah had been slowed down in order to protect civilians.
Fallujah is a historic bastion of the fight against the US occupation of Iraq and the Shia-led authorities who took over after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim, in 2003.
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