Islamic State militants are shooting at civilians trying to flee Fallujah, where an operation by Iraqi forces to seize the city from the militants is under way, an aid organization said.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said a number of civilians were killed as they tried to cross the Euphrates River, citing survivor accounts.
“Our biggest fears are now tragically confirmed with civilians being directly targeted while trying to flee to safety,” said Nasr Muflahi, the organization’s country director in Iraq, according to the Associated Press. “This is the worst that we feared would happen to innocent men, women and children who have had to leave everything behind in order to save their lives.”
The U.N. has estimated that more than 50,000 people are trapped in Fallujah and about 20,000 of them are children.
Iraqi forces supported by U.S. airstrikes advanced toward the western Iraqi city Sunday and pressed to re-take it from the Islamic State, also known as ISIL and ISIS.
The militants have controlled Fallujah since 2014. ISIL also still controls parts of northern and western Iraq including Mosul, the country’s second-largest city.