SEVEN Iraqi women and children were killed when American forces opened fire on a van which allegedly failed to stop at a checkpoint.

US sources said the vehicle, which was found to contain a total of 13 women and children, continued heading towards the checkpoint near Najaf despite being told to stop, and after warning shots were fired.

American forces said at the weekend they were having to review their security measures after four of their troops were killed in a suicide bomb blast at a checkpoint.

An investigation has been launched into this latest incident.

A British soldier was said by the Ministry of Defence to have been killed while on duty in southern Iraq, bringing the UK death toll to 26. No other details were available.

American and Iraqi forces have clashed in two areas south of Baghdad, with US troops pushing into the town of Hindiyah on the Euphrates, 50 miles south of the capital, and fighting is continuing around Najaf.

Hundreds of Iraqi civilians were said to be fleeing Iraq's second city of Basra, passing through British lines, while others were taking fruit, vegetables and water into the city.

The UN is due to carry out security checks at Umm Qasr to see if it can start bringing humanitarian aid in through the port.

Air raids have continued on Baghdad, with five huge explosions rocking the centre of the city.

President George W Bush told and audience in Philadelphia that US-led forces were moving closer to victory.

Meanwhile a truck carrying fuel containers has crashed into the wall of the UK embassy compound in Iran's capital Teheran. No one inside the compound was hurt.

Updated: 08:19 Tuesday, April 01, 2003