An Iraqi soldier escorts civilians in Mosul’s western Al Shifa district, on Thursday, as they flee their homes during the offensive by Iraqi forces to retake the city from Daesh. Image Credit: AFP

Geneva: More than 100,000 civilians remain trapped behind Daesh lines in Mosul with a US-backed government offensive to recapture the Iraqi city entering its ninth month, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday.

“These civilians are basically held as human shields in the Old City,” said Bruno Geddo, the presiding UNHCR representative in Iraq.

“There is hardly any food, water, electricity, fuel. These civilians are living in increasingly worsening situation of penury and panic because they are surrounded by fighting.”

The offensive to retake Mosul, Daesh’s de facto capital in Iraq, started on October 17 with key air and ground support from a US-led international coalition.

Iraqi government forces regained eastern Mosul in January, then a month later began the offensive on the western side that takes in the Old City.

About 800,000 people, more than a third of the pre-war population of the northern Iraqi city, have already fled, seeking refuge with friends and relatives or in camps.

Kurdish forces backed by US-air strikes are also besieging Daesh forces in the city of Raqqa, the militants’ de facto capital in neighbouring Syria.

Mosul Old City residents have been spending a hungry and fearful Ramadan under Daesh rule.

Ramadan this year was the worst for Mosul resident, Salam, has seen in his lifetime marked by war and deprivation.

“We are slowly dying from hunger, boiling mouldy wheat as soup” to end the fast at sunset, the 47 year-old father of three said by phone from the district besieged by Iraqi forces, asking to withhold his name fearing the militants’ retribution.

The only wish he makes in his prayers is for his family to survive the final days of battle.

Hundreds have been killed while trying to escape to government-held lines, caught in the crossfire or gunned down by Daesh snipers. The militants want civilians to remain in areas under their control to use them as human shields.

Many bodies remain in the street near the frontlines. Four of them are relatives of Khalil, a former civil servant who quit his job after Daesh took over Mosul.

“Daesh warned us not to bury them to make them an example for others who try to flee,” he said.