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Thousands escape Iraq mountain attack

BAGHDAD--Thousands of displaced Iraqis who had been besieged on a mountain by jihadists escaped to safety Sunday while Western powers ramped up efforts to save those still stranded with air drops.

Three days after U.S. President Barack Obama ordered warplanes back in the skies over Iraq to avert what he said could be an impending genocide, France and Britain joined the humanitarian response.

An attack by extremist Islamic State (IS) militants on the Sinjar region a week ago sent thousands — many of them from the Yazidi minority — scurrying into a nearby mountain.

Stranded on Mount Sinjar in searing summer heat with little food and water, Yazidi lawmaker Vian Dakhil had warned Saturday that they would not survive much longer.

But on Sunday, she and other officials said at least 20,000 had managed to flee the siege, with the help of Kurdish troops, and cross into northern Iraq's Kurdistan region via Syria.

“20,000 to 30,000 have managed to flee Mount Sinjar but there are still thousands on the mountain,” she told AFP. “The passage isn't 100 percent safe. There is still a risk.”

An official from the Kurdish regional government in charge of the Fishkhabur crossing point between Syria and Iraq said 30,000 had crossed, mainly Saturday and Sunday.

Foreign aid groups operating in the region confirmed several thousand survivors of the Mount Sinjar siege had transited through Syria and crossed back into Iraq.

Kurdish forces from Iraq, Syria and Turkey have worked together in a bid to rescue the displaced Kurdish-speaking Yazidis and other civilians trapped on the mountain.

Air Drops

The breakthrough appeared to coincide with U.S. airstrikes on IS fighters in the Sinjar area on Saturday.

U.S. forces “successfully (conducted) four airstrikes to defend Yazidi civilians being indiscriminately attacked” near Sinjar, the U.S. military said late Saturday.

U.S. and Iraqi cargo planes have been air dropping food and water over Mount Sinjar, a barren 60-kilometer (35 miles) ridge that local legend holds as the final resting place of Noah's Ark.

Britain joined the effort overnight Saturday with its first air drop over Sinjar of food and water.

“The world has been shocked by the plight of the Yazidi community,” said International Development Minister Justine Greening.

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