Bad weather is slowing the advance of Iraqi forces towards ISIL targets in western Mosul.
Those on the scene say there is strong resistance from ISIL militants in some areas of the densely-populated Old City.
Iraqi army helicopters have strafed and fired rockets at ISIL positions.
The al-Nuri mosque
Troops on the ground have closed in on the strategic and symbolic target of the al-Nuri mosque.
Federal police troops have advanced past the train station in western Mosul closer to the mosque. A police commander said they were very close to taking control of it.
Recent fighting has targeted the centuries-old mosque, with its famous leaning minaret.
The recapture would be a blow for ISIL as ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate in July 2014 after the hardline militants had seized swathes of Iraq and Syria.
Iraqi forces edge into Mosul’s Old City, Nuri mosque in sight https://t.co/RxuNi3y7N1 pic.twitter.com/w4K76PNohW— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) 17 mars 2017
Residents are fleeing from the area, carrying bags of belongings. Most are women and children.
“It is terrible, ISIL have destroyed us. There is no food, no bread. There is absolutely nothing,” one resident said.
600,000 feared caught inside the city
255,000 displaced from Mosul and its surrounding areas since October
More than 100,000 since military campaign began in western Mosul in February
32,000 between March 12-15 – the highest level so far
As Mosul battle escalates, civilians caught in crossfire https://t.co/oYlhYvvcSC pic.twitter.com/9TK4hYYlbn— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) 19 mars 2017
What the police say
“The weather is cloudy and rainy, but despite this, our forces are advancing towards their targets, and in a few steps and strikes we will reach the al-Nuri mosque, where ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was based,” Haider Abu-Dirgham from the Iraqi Police told reporters.
“Federal police and rapid response forces resumed their advance after halting operations due to bad weather. The troops have a target of retaking the rest of the Old City,” a spokesman said.
“We are advancing towards the Old City. Their resistance is weakening. They are mostly using car bombs and that is how they are losing on the ground,” said Police Commander General Khalid al-Obedi.
Federal police also arrested Husam Sheet al-Jabouri, the local chief of Diwan al-Hisba. The ISIL unit is responsible for enforcing strict Islamic rules in Mosul’s Bab al-Sijin area, they said in a statement.
#MosulOffensive #Iraq’s forces advancing inside #Mosul’s old city. Near the Al-Najafi street in the city centre. pic.twitter.com/OAgy5wQC4W— Haidar Sumeri (@IraqiSecurity) 18 mars 2017
The battle to recapture ISIL’s last stronghold in Iraq has now entered its sixth month. Iraqi government forces, backed by US advisers, artillery and air support have cleared the east and half of western Mosul. They are now focusing on controlling the Old City.
US officials estimate around 2000 ISIL fighters remain inside Iraq’s second-largest city.