MAJOR PUSH: Iraqi special forces soldiers on the outskirts of Mosul.
MAJOR PUSH: Iraqi special forces soldiers on the outskirts of Mosul. Marko Drobnjakovic

ISIS fighters told lay down guns or die

THE Iraqi Prime Minister has warned Islamic State militants fighting in Mosul to lay down their weapons if they want to live.

However, IS fighters have ignored Haidar al-Abadi's warning, launching ferocious counter-attacks in territory Iraqi special forces captured in Mosul's eastern edges, highlighting the tough battle ahead as troops push into crowded neighbourhoods.

Fighters from the armed group emerged from deeper in the city to target Iraqi soldiers with mortars and suicide car bombs.

Street battles continued with both sides firing mortar rounds and automatic weapons at each other's positions, while Iraqi troops also responded with artillery.

Lieutenant-Colonel Saad Alwan, from Iraq's counter-terrorism unit, told Al Jazeera the street battles were ferocious.

"We're facing fierce resistance. They're digging trenches and using car bombs," Lt-Col Alwan said.

Speaking on a visit to the front line to the east of the city, Mr Abadi said government- led forces "will not retreat and will not be broken".

He said his message to the people of Mosul was "we will liberate you soon".

"Be ready, any minute now we will enter Mosul and cut off the head of the IS snake," he said. "My message to IS, if they want to save their lives, they should lay down their weapons now."

More evidence of daunting fortifications emerged on Saturday, with satellite images showing IS had set up defences to bog down advancing forces, including rows of concrete barricades, earth berms, and rubble blocking key routes leading to the centre of the city.

Advances towards Mosul have been slower from the south with government troops still 35km away, yet some progress has been made, Iraqi forces say. They assaulted ISIL positions in the town of Hammam al-Alil on Saturday, which lies along the Tigris river about 15km from the southernmost parts of Mosul.

Kurdish television channel Rudaw broadcast live footage of Iraqi troops and armoured vehicles amassing outside the city as an attack helicopter fired rockets.

Truckloads full of as many as 1,600 civilians may have been forcibly moved from Hammam al-Alil to Tal Afar earlier this week, and may be transferred onward into Syria for possible use as human shields, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned on Friday.

Another 150 families from the town were moved to Mosul itself, it said.

Iraqi Prime Minister on what state television said was a visit to forward lines near Mosul, urged ISIL fighters to surrender.

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