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BAGHDAD – The Iraqi military on Wednesday called on Iraqis fighting for the Islamic State group in Mosul to surrender amid a wide-scale operation to retake the militant-held city, where up to 6,000 fighters are believed to be preparing for a climactic battle.
Here is a look at the key developments on the third day of the Mosul offensive:
FIGHTING OUTSIDE NEARBY TOWN
Iraqi troops are now around one kilometer (half a mile) away from Hamdaniyah, a historically Christian town also known as Bakhdida, to the east of Mosul.
Over the past day, IS sent 12 car bombs, all of which were blown up before reaching their targets, and Iraqi troops suffered a small number of casualties from the mortar rounds, an officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters. He did not provide a specific casualty toll.
To the north, airstrikes pounded Bashiqa as Kurdish forces fired mortar rounds from an area overlooking the IS-held town.
IRAQIS FLEE TO SYRIA
Save the Children said 5,000 people have fled to a refugee camp in northeastern Syria from the Mosul area in the last 10 days, with another thousand waiting to enter at the border. The group said the squalid camp has just 16 latrines shared by more than 9,000 people, many of whom only have access to dirty, untreated water.
U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien said no large-scale displacement of civilians has been reported since the operation began. But he said the U.N. anticipates "a displacement wave of some 200,000 people over the coming weeks, with up to one million displaced in the course of the operation in a worst-case scenario."
US DEPLOYS APACHES
The U.S.-led coalition is providing airstrikes in support of the operation, and more than 100 American soldiers are embedded with Iraqi forces, with hundreds more serving in a support role.
Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, the top commander of U.S. land forces in Iraq, said U.S. Army Apache attack helicopters are striking IS targets in support of the operation. The deployment of U.S. attack helicopter crews brings added risk for American troops.
RUSSIA FEARS FLIGHT OF MILITANTS
The chief of the Russian military's General Staff said it has been monitoring the Mosul operation and is concerned that militants might escape to Syria, where Russia has been carrying out airstrikes for more than a year in support of President Bashar Assad's forces.
"We hope that our partners from the international coalition realize what could be the consequences of large groups of IS fighters roaming the Mideast region," Gen. Valery Gerasimov said. "They must be destroyed on the spot, not driven from one country to another."