The Iraqi army said on Sunday that it had secured the first safe exit route for civilians to leave the Islamic State’s besieged stronghold of Fallujah, and a Norwegian aid group said thousands of people had already used it to flee in the first day it was open.
While it pressed on with its offensive in Fallujah, the army also launched a fresh advance in the direction of the northern city of Mosul, the Islamic State’s de facto Iraqi capital.
The Iraqi government launched a major operation last month to recapture Fallujah, an hour’s drive from Baghdad. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said troops are delaying advances to protect civilians. The United Nations fears for the fate of up to 90,000 people believed trapped inside Fallujah with little food or water.
The new exit route, known as al-Salam (Peace) Junction, was secured on Saturday, southwest of Fallujah, said Joint Operation Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool. “There were exit routes previously, but this is the first to be completely secured, and it’s relatively safe,” he said.
About 4,000 people had fled the city over the previous 24 hours through the al-Salam Junction, said Karl Schembri, a spokesman in Iraq for the Norwegian Refugee Council, which has been assisting people who escape.
A series of airstrikes in an insurgent-held Syrian province on Sunday killed at least 27 people, including four children, activists said.
The airstrikes in the northwestern Idlib province struck a crowded market and an apartment block and came despite reports that a local truce between the government and insurgents had been renewed.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said at least 21 people were killed by several airstrikes in Idlib city, including one that hit a popular market. The group said it believes the airstrike was carried out by Russian forces, supporting the Bashar al-Assad regime.
The group said another airstrike in the city of Maaret al-Numan, also in Idlib province, hit an apartment building, bringing it down and killing six people, including a mother and her four children who were trapped under the rubble.
— Associated Press
Nigeria says it has agreed to Cameroon’s voluntary return of 80,000 Nigerian refugees who have fled the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency. Nigerian officials had said Cameroon was threatening to force the repatriation. Cameroon previously has dumped thousands of people on the border.
Nigerian emergency agency spokesman Sani Datti said Sunday that an agreement for their return “voluntarily and in a dignified manner” has been signed by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Nigeria and Cameroon. Last month, Nigerians who had returned home were blocked from returning to Cameroon though they complained they did not have enough water as temperatures soared above 100 degrees.
A new influx will tax Nigerian officials struggling to cater for 2.1 million people displaced within the country. The United Nations says another 600,000 are displaced in the region.
— Associated Press
Dozens of military officers reportedly arrested in Uganda: A Ugandan military official says dozens of army officers, including some senior ones, have been arrested over an alleged plot to overthrow longtime President Yoweri Museveni. Army spokesman Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda said Sunday that more officers are being held over alleged acts of subversion. One of those in detention is a colonel with Uganda’s air forces. He said the officers have suspected links to an opposition lawmaker, Michael Kabaziguruka, who is being questioned by the police over similar allegations.
Egypt says time is running out to find black boxes: Egyptian investigators say time is running out in the search for the black boxes from an EgyptAir plane that crashed into the Mediterranean Sea last month, killing all 66 people on board. In a statement Sunday, they said searches by ships in the area will intensify, given that only around five days remain before the batteries in the flight’s data and cockpit voice recorders expire and they stop emitting signals.
London mayor vows to fight Brexit: London’s mayor is pledging to fight to the bitter end to persuade voters to remain in the European Union in a June 23 referendum. Sadiq Khan told the Associated Press on Sunday that it was time for political leaders who want the country to stay in the 28-nation bloc to present a more unified front — fighting together in common cause.
Italy says 1,230 migrants rescued: Italy’s coast guard said on Sunday that 1,230 migrants had been picked up in nine rescue operations in the waters between Sicily and North Africa, with one body being recovered. That brings the number of people saved at sea over the past four days to more than 4,000.
— From news services