Displaced Iraqis, who had fled to Syria to escape the violence in Mosul, arrive in Kirkuk as they return to Iraq

(Reuters) Hundreds of residents fled eastern Mosul neighborhoods on Sunday (January 8), as the Iraqi army continued with the second phase of an offensive against ISIS militants. Men, women and children left the recently recaptured Zuhoor and Muthanna neighborhoods.

Iraq’s elite counter-terrorism service (CTS) has spearheaded advances inside Mosul as part of a 100,000-strong force backed by U.S. air power.

After a period of stuttering advances in Mosul last month, Iraqi forces have gained momentum in a new push since around the start of the year. CTS forces clashed with ISIS fighters near a historic site in eastern Mosul, a senior commander has said, in a bid to drive them out of more neighborhoods. Security forces have retaken about a quarter of Mosul since October but, against expectations and despite severe shortages of food and water, most residents have stayed put until recently.

More than 125,000 people have been displaced out of a population of roughly 1.5 million, but the numbers have increased by nearly 50 percent to 2,300 daily from 1,600 over the last few days, the U.N. refugee agency has said.

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