At least four people died Saturday trying to flee Fallujah, as the fight for control of the city between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants enters its third week.
Two children, their mother, and a man drowned when the boat carrying them sank in the Euphrates River, Reuters reported Sunday, citing local police. Nine other people thought to have been on the vessel are missing.
At least 50,000 people, 20,000 of them children, are believed to be trapped in Fallujah as Iraqi special forces, Shia militias, and local police exchange fire with Islamic State fighters, who took control of the city more than two years ago. About 5,000 people have managed to escape the besieged town, according to United Nations humanitarian officials. Many have fled on foot, while others made the crossing in the Euphrates on the outskirts of the eastern part of the city.
Abu Tabarak told Reuters he watched from shore as the boat, which was carrying his wife, son, and daughter, sank. “I’ve seen with my own eyes my family disappear under the water,” he said. “There was no place for me on the departing boat, so I had waited with my second daughter for the next one.”
A local official told Reuters more than 1,000 families have crossed the river into territory that is not ISIS-held. Civilians have been turning anything that floats into makeshift boats, including “empty refrigerators, wooden cupboards, and kerosene barrels.”