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Residents return to Tal Afar

Water and electricity have been restored to the former insurgent stronghold of Tal Afar, near the northern city of Mosul, and many residents have returned to their homes, a US military official said on Sunday on condition of anonymity. Fighting between foreign fighters and US-led Coalition troops three weeks ago caused between 20,000 and 100,000 people to flee from their homes, aid officials said. The Turkish Red Crescent set up tents 5 km outside the city to provide temporary shelter, food and water to the predominantly ethnic Turkmen community residing there. In the last week, foreign fighters manning illegal checkpoints on the main road into Tal Afar were either captured, killed or have fled, the US military official said, paving the way for residents to return home. Insurgents and terrorists coming from Syria were said to be using the city as a transit base for operations at the beginning of the month. Tension rose after US-led forces set up checkpoints on the roads. "Construction projects planned for the region can now go forward," the official said in a briefing for journalists. The road back to peace in the remote city has been a little bumpy, however. Four Turkish Red Crescent workers were injured and their aid supplies stolen on Tuesday in a bandit attack on their convoy as they travelled to Tal Afar, according to Iraqi Red Crescent officials in Baghdad. Poor telephone connections between central and northern Iraq made it virtually impossible to get more information about the incident. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) last week sent one and a half mt of medical and surgical supplies to Tal Afar without problems, said Ahmed al-Rawi, a spokesman for the group. "We also sent supplies to the Mosul directorate of health to be distributed to the people injured in clashes in Tal Afar," al-Rawi said. Human Relief Foundation, a British-based aid agency, also provided assistance to the city, according to other aid agencies. When the fighting started, fighters tried to dislodge Coalition forces from roadside checkpoints leading to the city, using rocket propelled grenades, mortars and roadside bombs. Fighters then used Al Huda mosque inside the city and other buildings as bases from which to attack the troops, according to a Coalition statement. Families fled to escape the violence on the streets. Coalition forces started searching all ambulances for weapons and fighters, after finding that the combatants were using emergency vehicles to move freely around the city, according to a statement. The ambulances were later returned to a regional hospital. Ninevah province officials determined the city was safe 10 days ago, calling on residents to return. More than 3,000 people went home, according to a statement. At the same time, Coalition forces said they had arrested 15 anti-Coalition fighters in the region. "Control was returned to the city and the insurgents were rooted out," Sgt Eric Grill, a spokesman for Coalition troops, told IRIN. Following the end of fighting, Coalition troops gave more than $14,000-worth of medical supplies to the people in the region, it was reported.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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