Baghdad: The United Nations said on Thursday it is concerned over the plight of civilians caught up in fighting in Iraq`s besieged city of Fallujah, occupied by al Qaeda- linked militants and other Sunni insurgent groups since late December.
The UN`s mission to Iraq statement came as security forces intensified shelling inside the city, 65 kilometres west of Baghdad, targeting gunmen holed up inside houses and government buildings. Troops and allied Sunni tribal militias are also trying to drive militants out of parts of nearby Ramadi city, the provincial capital of the western Anbar province.
"I am particularly concerned about the rapidly deteriorating conditions in Fallujah where many residents are caught up in the fighting," UN mission chief Nickolay Mladenov said in the statement. "The UN continues to urge for humanitarian access to the city," he added.
Residents, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said artillery shelling had intensified since last night in a number of the city`s neighborhoods. Some of the shells hit the city`s general hospital, according to its director Wissam al-Essawi. He said that employees would leave the hospital if it is bombed again.
"Hospitals and medical facilities should be protected by all," Mladenov said.
In his weekly televised speech yesterday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said security forces were instructed to differentiate between areas crowded with civilians and those under the control of the militants. But some neighbourhoods had turned into "military industrialisation" areas, he said.
"Houses, hospitals, schools and other properties are all respected areas, but as we stated before, any house or government building from which a bullet fired at civilians or the military will be considered a target," al-Maliki said.
Also today, two bombs, hidden in clothing stalls in the capital`s al-Arabi wholesale market, went off simultaneously, killing six civilians and wounding 18 others, a police and medical official said on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to brief journalists. Public places such as cafes, restaurants, mosques and markets are favorite targets for militants in Iraq seeking to undermine the Shiite led-government`s efforts to maintain security nationwide.