Iraq pushes into Mosul's Old City in effort to capture iconic mosque

Mosul's Great Mosque of al-Nuri is where Islamic State leader Baghdadi is believed to have delivered a sermon in which he declared an Islamic State caliphate.

The Iraqi military launched the most recent offensive on western Mosul, the largest remaining ISIL stronghold in Iraq, on February 19.

The commandos of the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) fought heavy clashes against the Daesh militants during the day and freed the neighbourhood of Nablus in west of the old city centre and raised the Iraqi flags over some of its buildings, Abdul-Amir Yarallah from the Joint Operations Command (JOC) said in a statement, Xinhua reported.

"It is one of the toughest areas, and in fact it is hard, chaotic and very tight, but our forces managed to get out of their vehicles and enter the Old City", Abdulla added.

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"Families are at risk of being shot if they leave and they are at risk if they stay", she said.

Iraqi authorities launched the offensive to retake the city on October 17 past year, with the support of the US-led coalition that has been carrying out strikes against IS in Iraq and Syria since 2014.

So far, more than 152,000 people have fled their homes in west Mosul, 98,000 of them taking refuge in camps near the city where they receive medical treatment, food and foam mattresses, Iraq's Ministry of Migration and Displacement said in a statement.

Recapturing Iraq's second city would be a major blow to IS following months of jihadist losses in both countries.

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The pace of exodus from West Mosul has been increasing as Iraqi forces penetrate the city.

The Iraqi government says it can accommodate a further 100,000 displaced people in camps, but the United Nations says the numbers could rise way beyond that.

The Reach Initiative, a group that collects data on humanitarian crises, said the situation in west Mosul was "severe to extremely severe".

Firas al-Zuwaidi, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry's elite Rapid Response Force, said government forces were closing in on the Al-Nuri Mosque.

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