ARBIL: (APP) Iraqi forces renewed their assault Monday against jihadists in Mosul's Old City, after days in which the battle was overshadowed by reports of heavy civilian casualties from air strikes.
Iraqi forces began the massive operation to retake west Mosul from the Islamic State (IS) group last month and have recaptured a series of neighbourhoods, but the battle poses a major threat to civilians in the city.
Iraqi officials and witnesses have said air strikes took a devastating toll on civilians in the Mosul Al-Jadida area in recent days, but the number of victims -- said by some to number in the hundreds -- could not be independently confirmed.
"Federal Police and Rapid Response Division units began to advance today on the southwestern axis of the Old City," Lieutenant General Raed Shakir Jawdat, the commander of the federal police, said in a statement.
Jawdat said that one of their targets is Faruq Street, which runs near the Al-Nuri mosque.
IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only known public appearance at the mosque after IS seized Mosul in 2014, calling on Muslims to obey him.
Iraqi interior ministry forces have been operating in the area of the Old City for several weeks, but they have faced tough resistance and progress has been slow.
The Counter-Terrorism Service, which along with the Rapid Response Division is one of two special forces units spearheading west Mosul operations, has made faster progress in areas farther west.
But the Old City -- a warren of narrow streets and closely-spaced buildings in which the UN said 400,000 people still reside -- poses unique challenges in terms of the difficulty of advancing as well as the danger to civilians.
Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, the spokesman for Iraq's Joint Operations Command, said that interior ministry units have deployed snipers to target IS jihadists using civilians as human shields.