Conflicting reports of shelling at Mariupol mosque

AP , AFP , Saturday 12 Mar 2022

The Ukrainian government said Saturday a Mariupol mosque in which about 80 civilians, including Turks, had taken refuge, was shelled by Russia, a claim denied by one of those sheltering at the site.

Mariupol, Ukraine
An explosion is seen in an apartment building after Russian s army tank fires in Mariupol, Ukraine, Friday, March 11, 2022. AP

"The mosque of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and his wife Roxolana (Hurrem Sultan) in Mariupol was shelled by Russian invaders," the ministry wrote on its Twitter account.

"More than 80 adults and children are sheltering there, including Turkish citizens," it added, without specifying when the strike took place.

The strategically-located city has been under a devastating siege for days.

However, Ismail Hacioglu, president of the Suleiman Mosque Association in Mariupol, who was contacted by Turkish TV channel HaberTurk early Saturday afternoon, said the area was under fire but the mosque itself had not been hit.

"The Russians are bombing the area... which is 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) from the mosque, and a bomb fell at a distance of 700 metres from the mosque," he said earlier on Instagram.

Thirty Turkish civilians are inside the building, "including children," he said, without specifying the number.

A total of 86 Turkish citizens are still in the city of Mariupol, whom his association is seeking to gather, Hacioglu told Turkish television.

He said his association had already tried four times to evacuate the Turks by forming a convoy "but the Russians did not let us through" roadblocks.

"We will try a fifth time," he said.

The Turkish foreign ministry, contacted by AFP, said it had "no information" on the situation.

On March 7, the Turkish consulate in Odessa, a major port in southern Ukraine, had called on Twitter for Turkish nationals in Mariupol to "take shelter" in the mosque, "with a view to evacuation to our country".

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) raised the alarm on over the situation in the city of Mariupol where people are holed up in basements, without water, gas, electricity and communications

People were seen in recent days fighting for food, a "desperate" situation, MSF said.

A children's hospital and a maternity hospital were hit on Wednesday, killing three people and injuring many others, prompting an international outcry.

A new attempt at an evacuation corridor was planned to allow civilians to leave the city, in the direction of Zaporizhzhia, some 200 kilometres to the north-west, according to Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.

A convoy of at least a dozen buses, led by Orthodox priests and loaded with 90 tonnes of food and medicine, left Zaporizhzhia for Mariupol, Sergiy Orlov, the city's deputy mayor, told AFP later.

On reaching its destination, it is then hoped it could evacuate civilians in the opposite direction.

For days, Ukrainians have claimed that the Russian army has been shelling the evacuation route, preventing evacuations.

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