Iraqi forces continued on Tuesday heavy clashes against the Islamic State (IS) militants in the last major stronghold of the old city center in western Mosul, the Iraqi military said.
The army's 9th armored division freed the southwestern part of al-Shifaa neighborhood, the last neighborhood which remained outside the major IS redoubt of the old city center, after heavy clashes with the extremist militants, Abdul-Amir Yarallah from the Joint Operations Command (JOC) said in a statement.
The troops freed the area on the bank of the Tigris River in Shifaa neighborhood, including the archeological site of Bashtabiyah Castle, Juvenile prison building, local health department and a church, and the troops are fighting at the foot of the fifth bridge at the edge of the old city, Yarallah said.
Meanwhile, the army soldiers, Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) forces and the Federal Police continued house-to-house battles against IS militants in the narrow alleys at the edges of Mosul's old city center, a CTS source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
The CTS commandos are now fighting in an area located some 500 meters from the historical al-Nuri Mosque in the middle of Mosul's old city center.
The mosque with its famous leaning minaret, which gave the city its nickname "al-Hadbaa" or "the hunchback," has a symbolic value, as it was the place where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the cross-border "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria in his sole public appearance in July 2014.
The progress was slowed by the stiff resistance of IS militants and a large number of roadside bombs and booby-trapped buildings, in addition to IS snipers who took positions in the buildings of heavily-populated neighborhoods, the source said.
According to UN reports, some 100,000 civilians are still trapped in the IS-held areas in the old city center and the adjacent al-Shifaa neighborhood. The extremist group is using the civilians as human shields.
Iraqi forces, backed by international coalition, launched their final push on Sunday morning to drive out IS militants from al-Shifaa neighborhood and most of the densely-populated old city center in the western side of Mosul, locally known as the right bank of Tigris River.
Also on Tuesday, the Iraqi forces captured Alaa Sami al-Khateeb, the broadcaster and program presenter of al-Bayan Radio station, affiliated with the terrorist IS group, according to Brigadier Yahya Rasoul, spokesman of the JOC told reporters.
According to information presented by the residents, Khateeb was arrested in one of the houses in the freed neighborhood of Nabi Younis in the eastern side of Mosul, Rasoul said.
Mosul, 400 km north of Iraq's capital Baghdad, has been under IS control since June 2014, when government forces abandoned their weapons and fled, enabling IS militants to take control of parts of Iraq's northern and western regions.