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12,500 flee Iraq fighting in IS-held Hawija: UN

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Geneva (AFP)

An estimated 12,500 people have fled the northern Iraqi town of Hawija since the September launch of a military operation to dislodge the Islamic State group, the UN said Tuesday.

"Over the weekend, the number of people who have fled the fighting has increased from 7,000 displaced during the first week of the operation ... to some 12,500 people as of last night," the UN's humanitarian affairs office (OCHA) said in a statement.

"The exact number of people still in Hawiga is unknown, but could be as high as 78,000," it added.

Iraqi forces on Monday claimed the seizure of a strategic IS-held area south of Hawija.

Government forces backed by a US-led coalition and the Hashed al-Shaabi, an alliance mostly of Shiite militias, have been fighting to retake Hawija, which the jihadists captured in 2014.

The United Nations said humanitarian agencies have set up checkpoints, camps and emergency sites in the area capable of receiving more than 70,000 people who could flee the Hawija operation.

Some have reported slipping through the frontline by paying smugglers $250 (175 euros) per person, OCHA said.

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