Two weeks after launching a campaign to reclaim Fallujah from ISIS, which has held the city for two years, Iraqi forces on Sunday secured the southern edge of the city and "elite special forces" were moving toward the city's center on Monday, ABC News reports. "We are now at the gates of Fallujah," one military leader said during a news conference, per Al Jazeera. But as Iraqi fighters push forward, civilians fleeing the city are being shot and killed by "armed opposition groups" as they cross the Euphrates River, the Norwegian Refugee Council tells the BBC. "Our biggest fears are now tragically confirmed, with civilians being directly targeted while trying to flee to safety," the NRC's Nasr Muflahi says. "This is the worst that we feared would happen to innocent men, women, and children who have had to leave everything behind in order to save their lives."
A local police captain confirms the report, saying ISIS sniper fire and explosive devices are cutting down some civilians before they ever make it to the river, Reuters reports. On Saturday, four people drowned, including two children and their mother, and nine more were unaccounted for after a boat attempting to cross the 1,000-foot-wide Euphrates sank, according to the news service. One local official tells Reuters that civilians "are using empty refrigerators, wooden cupboards and kerosene barrels as makeshift boats," adding "It's totally unsafe and this is why innocent people are drowning." On the outskirts of Fallujah, Iraqi forces clearing mines discovered a mass grave with some 400 bodies of soldiers and civilians, AFP reports. It is believed that ISIS executed the victims in late 2014 and early 2015.