Civilians have been caught in the crossfire as Iraqi and coalition forces try to recapture Mosul from IS, according to Human Rights Watch. Residents reportedly fear being used as "human shields" by the jihadi group.
"Islamic State" (IS) fighters are deliberately targeting civilians who refuse to join them as they retreat from the city of Mosul, in northern Iraq, an international human rights watchdog said on Wednesday.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said IS had "indiscriminately attacked civilian areas" with mortar rounds and explosives and "deliberately shot at fleeing residents."
According to accounts from Mosul residents, documented by HRW, members of IS began rounding up civilians as Iraqi military forces advanced in an attempt to reclaim the city. Those who refused to leave with IS were branded "unbelievers" and, according to IS tenets a "valid target."
Residents reportedly feared that they would be used as "human shields" if they went with the jihadis.
The report by HRW is based on interviews it conducted in early December with 50 people who had fled eastern Mosul to the Kurdish region of Iraq, where they were receiving medical treatment.
One former Mosul resident told HRW that a mortar attack by IS on November 25 struck her family's home in the Aden district of the city.
"We were just finishing our breakfast and removing our plates from the table when the shelling started," she said. "My mother was killed. The rest of us were injured. So many of our neighbors were killed - the elderly, women, children."
According to the human rights office of the United Nations, locals reported that IS had shot dead 12 civilians in Mosul's Bakr neighborhood on November 12 for refusing to give them access to the rooftops of their homes, from which IS wanted to launch rockets.
Caught in the crossfire
Strikes by Iraqi or coalition forces have also resulted in civilian casualties, according to the testimonies collected by HRW. One resident described one such airstrike that hit his home saying, "The house collapsed - the ceiling fell down on us. I saw the shrapnel hit my grandmother in the head. She died immediately."
He added that neighbors later informed him that the same strike had killed four IS fighters who had opened fire on Iraqi military forces near his house.
"The presence of IS fighters among civilians does not absolve anti-IS forces from the obligation to target only military objectives," HRW said. The organization called for both sides in the conflict to "take all feasible precautions" to protect civilians from harm.
Iraqi security forces, assisted by US-led coalition warplanes, launched an offensive in October to recapture Mosul from IS, who had seized control in June 2014. The operation's progress has slowed as it pushed into more densely populated areas.
According to the United Nations, 332 civilians were killed in the Nineveh governate, of which Mosul is the provincial capital, in November.
rls/sms (AP, HRW)