Twelve people from the embattled city of Mosul, including a 2-month-old baby, have been treated for suspected exposure to a blistering chemical agent, medics said, as Isis militants strike back at government-held neighbourhoods while trying to hold off advancing government forces.
The patients, who were being treated in a hospital in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil, displayed symptoms of a chemical attack, including blisters, burns, respiratory problems, irritation to the eyes and vomiting.
They described three separate attacks with rockets carrying gas over the past week on neighbourhoods in eastern Mosul that have been recaptured by government forces.
"There was a hiss of gas, and then we were suffocating," said Zeina Fawzi, who was sitting in the kitchen with her husband when a rocket exploded outside the door. She and her husband said it dispersed black oily droplets through the air, covering kitchen walls. She showed a blister on her shoulder.
The militants, who still control much of the western side of the city, have regularly bombarded the eastern side with mortars and rockets.
More than a million civilians were still in the city when the offensive to retake it began nearly five months ago. Iraqi security forces have tried to keep people in their homes, but the number of those fleeing has soared in recent days as forces make inroads into the packed western neighbourhoods.
About 10,000 people are fleeing each day, according to Jassim Mohammed al-Jaff, Iraq's Minister for Migration and Displacement.
A total of 43,806 people have fled western Mosul since February 26, including 15,400 people in the past two days, the United Nations has said.
The use of a "blistering chemical agent" in a densely populated city was "completely unacceptable" and constituted a war crime, said Lise Grande, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Iraq. She said tests were being done to determine the nature of the agent. Washington Post