As the Iraqi military prepares to launch a major offensive on Al Qaeda-affiliated militants  that have taken control of the city of Fallujah, more than 13,000 families fled their homes in the restive Anbar province , NGOs said Wednesday,
Warning of a "critical" humanitarian situation, the news of the mass exodus of Fallujah residents came as masked gunmen continue to hold the city captive, Agence France Presse reported.
With daily life being forced to continue, AFP journalists on the ground in Fallujah reported that traffic police were seen on the streets, some shops reopened and there were several cars driving on the streets. However, fierce clashes and shelling still bombarded the city, as an Al Qaeda-affiliated urged fellow Sunnis to join them in the uprising against the Shiite-led Iraqi government.
Fallujah and parts of nearby Ramadi , which lie in in the western province of Anbar that shares a border with war-torn Syria, have eluded government control for days  - marking the first time that militants have succeeded in gaining open and widespread control of a major Iraqi city since the height of the unrest and insurgency that followed the 2003 US-led invasion, according to AFP.
On Wednesday, leading NGO the Iraqi Red Crescent  reported that it had provided humanitarian assistance to more than 8,000 families across the Anbar province, adding that upwards of 13,000 had fled that area  and were living with relatives elsewhere in Iraq, or in schools or other public buildings.
"There is a critical humanitarian situation in Anbar province which is likely to worsen as operations continue," Nickolay Mladenov , the UN  special envoy to Iraq, said in a statement, AFP reported.
"The situation in Fallujah is particularly concerning as existing stocks of food, water and life-saving medicines begin to run out," he added.