BAZWAYA (Iraq) • Iraqi commanders said they were fighting inside an industrial district on the outer edge of Mosul yesterday.
It was their first breach into the northern Iraqi city that has been under Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) control for more than two years.
The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service entered the state television station in Mosul yesterday, capturing the first important building in the city since the start of the offensive about two weeks ago, a commander of the elite unit said.
Taking the fight across the city lines does not change the overall challenges facing Iraqi troops trying to oust ISIS from its last major stronghold in the country.
But it reflects the steady advances by Iraqi soldiers and allied forces - backed by US air strikes - since the campaign to recapture Mosul was launched last month. The city of more than one million people is the heart of the ISIS caliphate.
The United Nations (UN) said it had received more reports of ISIS fighters forcing thousands of civilians into Mosul, possibly to be used as human shields.
Pause in Aleppo air strikes in jeopardy: Russia
MOSCOW • Russia will be unable to prolong a moratorium on air strikes on the Syrian city of Aleppo if rebels there continue their attacks on the ground, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said yesterday.
"At the moment the pause is continuing, the exit of the civilian population from eastern Aleppo is being enabled, conditions are being created for humanitarian aid," he said.
"But all that is impossible if the terrorists continue to fire on neighbourhoods, humanitarian aid routes, launch attacks, and continue to hide behind a (human) shield. That will not permit the continuation of the humanitarian pause."
United Nations (UN) human rights spokesman Ravina Shamdasani said yesterday all sides fighting over the city may be committing war crimes through indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas.
Insurgents last week launched an offensive against government-held western Aleppo, more than a month into an operation by the army to retake the city's rebel-held eastern districts. The UN estimates 250,000 to 275,000 civilians are trapped and 8,000 rebel fighters are holed up in the eastern part.
"All parties in Aleppo are conducting hostilities that are resulting in large numbers of civilian casualties and creating an atmosphere of terror for those who continue to live in the city," Ms Shamdasani said.
The UN had documented more than 30 civilian deaths, including 10 children, from strikes by mortars, rockets and other explosive devices in western Aleppo last weekend, she said.
The militants also reportedly killed another 40 former Iraqi Security Force members before dumping their bodies into a river, UN rights office spokesman Ravina Shamdasani said in Geneva. The rights office has listed many ISIS atrocities, including tens of thousands of forced relocations and hundreds of executions allegedly committed in and around Mosul since the government operation to retake the city began.
Soldiers from Iraq's elite counterterrorism force said they had entered the neighbourhood of Gogjali, while from the village of Bazwaya, just 6km to the east, jets circled overhead and explosions could be heard from the front lines.
"Right now, I'm in the middle of Gogjali," said Lieutenant-General Abdelwahab al-Saedi, a counterterrorism forces commander. "We are dealing with pockets of resistance and booby traps."
Lt-Gen Abdul Ghani al-Asadi, head of the special forces, said he had expected the fight to retake Bazwaya to take two or three days, but it had lasted six hours.
The elite Iraqi troops are making a sharp push into the city from the east, but forces on other fronts remain farther away, exposing advancing troops to attacks from their flanks as they press forward.
In Bazwaya, there was a fresh crater in the road from an early morning car bomb attack. ISIS attacked using a sand-coloured Humvee military vehicle flying the Iraqi flag in an attempt to look like a friendly Iraqi army vehicle, soldiers said.
On the main road to the front lines, civilians could be seen leaving, holding white flags out of their windows as they drove. Speaking on state television on Monday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi assured civilians his forces were close and urged them to stay at home.
Iraq's array of Shi'ite militia forces, known as the Hashd Shaabi, joined the Mosul fight over the weekend, ringing the city on the western side, cutting the militants' supply routes from Syria.
Still, initially at least, a route will be left for them to escape, to ease the fight for security forces inside the city, Mr Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Badr Organisation, one of Iraq's most powerful Shi'ite armed groups, said on Monday.
WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE