Iraqi forces discovered a mass grave in an area recently restored from Islamic State (IS) militias near the Iraqi city of Falluja.
During a mine clearance operation in Saqlawiya, the forces discovered a mass grave of nearly 400 people who were thought to have been killed by IS during 2014 and 2015.
“The mass grave includes civilians executed by IS on various charges, such as spying or breaking the organisation’s rules,” AFP cited Rajeh Barakat, a member of the provincial council of Anbar, as saying.
The Norwegian Refugees Council said in a statement that IS militias are killing any Iraqis trying to escape the city of Falluja.
“An unidentified number of civilians have been shot and killed trying to cross the river,” the statement read.
The Iraqi army, backed by other groups, launched an operation on 22 May to restore Fallujah which had previously been seized by IS.
However, the Iraqi army slowed down their attack in an attempt to protect civilians. The UN estimates that 50,000 civilians are still living in Falluja.
The city was seized in January 2014 by IS, which at the time controlled a wide area of northern Iraq and declared it a Caliphate along with land it had seized in Syria.
An Iraqi army statement previously said troops entered from the southern part of the city, and “kept moving forward”.
The Shi’a troops regained control of the village of Al-Saklawiya in northern Falluja with support from the air force.
The Iraqi government is concerned about the fate of the 50,000 civilians in the city.
“The operation to liberate Fallujah could have been completed in days but we put the safety of civilians first,” prime minister Haider Al-Abadi’s spokesperson Saad al-Hadithi said.
The Shi’a group Al Hashd Al Sha’by announced that its role in the offensive will halt in the southern areas of Falluja, and they will not break through the city unless the Iraqi army slows down.
IS is incurring losses in Syria as well, as the both the Syrian Democratic Kurdish forces (SDF) backed by the US and the Syrian army are attacking areas controlled by the group in Aleppo and Al-Raqqah.
An SDF spokesperson said IS members have begun escaping from the Syrian city of Menbaj.
The town connects the Turkish borders with the stronghold of IS, Al Raqqah.
SDF fighters had controlled more than 100 sqkm of territory during the advance, according to US Central Command spokesperson Colonel Patrick Ryder.
More than 55 airstrikes have been carried out since the start of the offensive meant to hamper IS’s ability “to move fighters, weapons, finances, [and] supplies into and out of Syria and Iraq,” Ryder said on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Syrian army breached the Islamic State (IS) stronghold of Al Raqqah province on Saturday following a large-scale attack with support from Russia.
The Syrian army’s attack reached the administrative borders of Al Raqqah after the Russian air force bombarded locations seized by the terrorist group.
The Syrian army is now attempting to move towards the Euphrates river and the Al-Raqqah- Aleppo Road in order to corner IS militants in Aleppo from three vantage points, according to the Syrian observatory.
Twenty-six IS members were killed during operations, according to reports.