Iraqi forces readied on Wednesday (February 22nd) for an assault on Mosul airport after blitzing extremist positions in a renewed offensive to retake the city from the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), AFP reported.
Elite forces reinforced positions that were taken since a fresh push south of Mosul was launched on Sunday while hundreds of civilians fled newly recaptured villages.
"Around 480 people displaced from al-Yarmuk area are being transferred to liberated areas further south," the federal police said in a statement.
Iraqi forces have retaken a key checkpoint on the main Baghdad highway south of Mosul and the village of Albu Seif, a natural citadel overlooking the airport and the south of the city.
Twenty-one villages have been liberated as of Wednesday, in addition to three housing complexes, a power plant and several government factories, Ninawa operation commander Lt. Gen. Abdul Ameer Rashid Yarallah told Diyaruna.
About 53 ISIL elements, including suicide bombers and foreign fighters, were also killed in the battle, he said.
In response to a question about fears that ISIL fighters might flee towards the Syria border, he said, "We have drawn up a plan with the international coalition to arrest or kill all terrorists and not allow them to remain as a threat to the world."
Meanwhile, the fate of an estimated 750,000 civilians trapped in west Mosul was a major source of concern . Almost half of the remaining population are children, according to aid groups, and supplies are fast dwindling.
"ISIL fighters have seized all the hospitals and only they can get treated now," an employee at the al-Jamhuri hospital in west Mosul told AFP by phone.
The health of many residents had been deteriorating for months under the rule of ISIL.
"Even before the hospitals were closed, locals had to pay ISIL sums of money they could not afford," the hospital employee said.
Medical workers and residents speaking from west Mosul on condition of anonymity said the weakest were beginning to die of malnutrition and shortages of medicines.