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World

June 20, 2017

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Iraqi forces push into Mosul

Iraqi forces push into Mosul

MOSUL, Iraq: Iraqi forces pushed deeper into Mosul’s Old City on Monday after launching a final assault on the Islamic State group, warning civilians to stay inside and telling Jihadists to "surrender or die".

Iraqi forces launched the operation on Sunday to retake the district, the last part of Iraq’s second city still held by IS after a months-long offensive.

Commanders say the Jihadists are putting up fierce resistance and there are fears for more than 100,000 civilians believed to be trapped in the maze of narrow streets.

Staff Major General Maan al-Saadi, a top commander in Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), told AFP that heavy fighting had resumed at dawn on Monday.

"At 6:00 am, we pushed deeper into the Old City and took control of new areas in the Faruq neighbourhood," he said.

"Daesh resistance has been fierce," he said, using an Arabic acronym for the Jihadist group.

"They have blocked every entrance, planted IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and booby trapped houses our forces might be near," he said. "Penetrating was very difficult. Today the fighting is face to face."

The push into Mosul’s historic heart on the west bank of the river Tigris marks the culmination of a months-long campaign by Iraqi forces to retake IS’s last major urban stronghold in the country.

The US-led coalition battling IS in Iraq and neighbouring Syria has backed the offensive including with months of air strikes.

The loss of Mosul would mark the effective end of the Iraqi portion of the cross-border "caliphate" IS declared in summer 2014 after seizing swathes of Iraq and Syria. Sheltering from relentless fire and explosions near a sniper position on the edge of the Old City, CTS captain Ahmed Jassem described a bitter fight.

"We can’t bring our vehicles into these narrow streets. It means they can’t use as many car bombs either, but they use motorcycle bombs and even IEDs mounted on remote-controlled toy cars," he said.

Iraqi forces stationed Humvees by the Grand Mosque on the retaken east side of Mosul, facing the Old City and mounted with speakers.

The loudspeakers blared messages to IS fighters, telling them: "You have only this choice: surrender or die".

Late on Sunday, Iraqi forces dropped nearly 500,000 leaflets over the city, warning that they had "started attacking from all directions".

The leaflets urge civilians to "stay away from open places and... exploit any opportunity that arises during the fighting" to escape.

The United Nations has said IS may be holding more than 100,000 civilians as human shields in the Old City.

Only a few hundred yards from the heaviest fighting, small groups of civilians gathered, sheltering from the scorching sun more than from mortar rounds falling into the neighbourhood.

"We moved to a camp in Hammam al-Alil when the neighbourhood was liberated, but homes were being looted so we came back to protect our property," said Nabil Hamed Khattab, a 56-year old who did not flinch when a mortar round came crashing down a few blocks away.

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