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Muriel: Iraqi civilians caught in Basra firefight

Basra flee
Locals flee the burning city of Basra on Friday.

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BASRA, Iraq (CNN) -- The battle for the southeastern Iraqi city of Basra took a dramatic turn Friday, when Iraqi paramilitary opened fire on civilians trying to flee the city, coalition military officials said.

CNN correspondent Diana Muriel, embedded with the British Army Desert Rats outside Basra, talked with U.K. military officials and related her observations to CNN anchor Bill Hemmer.

MURIEL: More than 1,000 women and children, escorted by some men, tried to make it to safety from the city of Basra across one of the main bridges to the southern side, where British forces are encamped.

•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
•  Weapons: 3D Models

At about 9 a.m. (1 a.m. ET), as the main group tried to make it across, a four-by-four vehicle drove onto the bridge.

Behind it was mounted a machine gun that opened fire at what appeared to be the civilians on the bridge and the British forces at the other end of the bridge.

A British tank came onto the bridge and fired at that vehicle, destroying it and killing three of the Saddam Fedayeen, or local militiamen [loyal to the Iraqi president], who were on and driving that vehicle.

About 200 or 300 of the civilians fled back to the north side of the river. The others made it across to safety, although some casualties were taken.

The British managed to recover one young woman who was injured in the crossfire and brought her to safety on the other side.

Over the past few days, refugees have been trying to leave the city. But Fedayeen Saddam, according to British military sources, are patrolling that bridge and trying to prevent people from making it across.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting, in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details.

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