Monday 15 November 2004, 21:37 Makka Time, 18:37 GMT

An aid convoy has been forced to turn back from the beleaguered city of Falluja as more evidence emerged of a mounting humanitarian crisis on the eighth day of a US offensive to crush resistance forces.

The convoy from Iraq's Red Crescent withdrew from a hospital on the edge of Falluja on Monday after failing to get permission to deliver supplies to residents inside the city, a spokeswoman said.

The trucks laden with food, water and medical supplies will travel instead to villages around Falluja where tens of thousands of people have set up camp after fleeing the massive week-old offensive spearheaded by US marines, said Firdaus al-Ubadi.

Relief agencies are trying to get food, water and medicine to hundreds of families they say are trapped inside Falluja.

The military said it was announcing over loudspeakers in the city that civilians needing medical or other help should seek out US forces.

Food shortage

A spokesman for the Shura Council of Falluja Mujahidin told Aljazeera some families had been without water, food and electricity for the past five days. He said US forces were restricting the relief groups to one area.

"We plead to the conscience of the Islamic world for help," said Abu Saad al-Dulaimi.

Falluja medical staff say US soldiers beat hospital workers

"There are massacres in Falluja, there are assassinations, only because the city's people are protecting their honour and dignity."

Asma Khamis al-Muhannadi, an assistant doctor who witnessed the US and Iraqi National Guards raid into Falluja hospital, told Aljazeera that the medical staff received threats from the Iraqi health minister who said if anyone disclosed information about the raid, they would be arrested or dismissed from their jobs.

"We were tied up and beaten despite being unarmed and having only our medical instruments," al-Muhannadi said.

"The hospital was targeted by bombs and rockets. I was with a woman in labour. The umbilical cord had not yet been cut. At that time, a US solider shouted at one of the national guards to arrest me and tie my hands while I was helping the mother to deliver. I will never forget this incident," the assistant doctor said.

"I am from Falluja and I work there. They claimed I was a fighter and stole our money and mobile phones," she said.

Patients targeted

"The troops dragged patients from their beds and pushed them towards the wall. There were 17 injured people among the patients," al-Muhannadi said.

Many child refugees were taken for treatment to Baghdad

"We exited from the hospital on the second day of the attack, but we could not return as the main Falluja-Saqlawiya junction was controlled by the US troops. We saw around 150 women, children and the elderly attacked by aircraft fire," she said.

"All of us were subject to intense inspection; the soldiers even examined children's nappies. Two female doctors were forced to totally undress," al-Muhannadi said.

Residents say many civilians have died and hospitals continue to receive casualties, including children.

Latest attacks

The US miltary said it had targeted a fortified underground bunker on Monday with reinforced tunnels leading to stores of weapons, including an anti-aircraft artillery gun.

At least five artillery rounds and air strikes hit the southern portion of the city, and soon afterwards exchanges of gunfire and blasts could be heard.

The attacks followed sporadic mortar rounds against resistance targets overnight.

"One mission early on 15 November attacked a bunker complex in the southernmost unpopulated section of Falluja after multi-national forces discovered an underground bunker and steel-reinforced tunnels," a US military statement said.

"The tunnels connected a ring of facilities filled with weapons, an anti-aircraft artillery gun, bunk beds, a truck and a suspected weapons cache."

The US military also alleged it had uncovered so-called torture chambers in Falluja. However, this could not be independently substantiated and no pictures have been released by the US military to verify the claim.

Aljazeera + Agencies

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