Iraqi forces battled jihadists inside Mosul for the third day running Sunday while civilians risked their lives dodging bombs and snipers to slip out of the city.
The Islamic State group put up fierce resistance to defend the city it seized more than two years ago and also claimed responsibility for deadly suicide attacks further south.
The elite Counter-Terrorism Service has been spearheading the attack on the eastern front of the three-week-old offensive on Mosul, Iraq's largest military operation in years.
"Our forces are continuing to clear neighbourhoods including Al-Samah, Karkukli, Al-Malayeen and Shaqaq al-Khadra," CTS Staff Lieutenant General Abdelghani al-Assadi told AFP.
The jihadists have given up some of its bastions in Iraq and Syria with barely a fight in recent months but its men began the defence of their last Iraqi hub with anger.
"Resistance is very heavy and they have suffered major losses," Assadi said of IS.
EXCLUSIVE: CNN's firsthand account of an all-out ISIS assault in Mosul, leaving crew trapped and hiding with family https://t.co/DgqOQRlL3j pic.twitter.com/W1m7z7ydJx — CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) November 5, 2016
While the corridors called for by aid groups to allow the safe passage of civilians have yet to materialise, arrivals in the displacement camps dotting the area have increased markedly.
The government said it had taken in 9,000 displaced people in the past two days.
The International Organization for Migration said a total of about 34,000 people had been displaced since the start of rhe offensive on October 17.
Relief organisations were fighting the clock to build up their shelter capacity ahead of the feared mass exodus from Mosul.[caption id="attachment_29314" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Smoke rises from burning oil wells in Qayyarah, south of Mosul, on November 4, 2016, during operation by Iraqi forces to retake the main hub city from the Islamic State (IS) group jihadists. AFP[/caption]
The jihadists, with an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 fighters in Mosul, could hold out for weeks and inflict heavy casualties on government forces but they are outnumbered about 10 to one.
The group's ability to hit back with ground offensives elsewhere appears to be gone and IS has responded with a string of diversionary attacks, including spectacular operations in Kirkuk and Rutba.
On Sunday, it claimed responsibility for three suicide attacks in Tikrit and Samarra, the two main cities in Salaheddin province north of Baghdad.
Iraqi officials spoke of only two bombers, one who detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle at the southern entrance to Tikrit, and another who blew up an ambulance in Samarra. Jassem al-Jbara, the head of Salaheddin province's security committee, said that the Tikrit attack killed 12 people and wounded 20, while six died and 12 more were injured in Samarra. IS identified two of the bombers as "Al-Moslawi" - a nom de guerre that would indicate they were from Mosul, though it could be a propaganda attempt to link militants from other areas with the ongoing battle for Iraq's second city. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who has visited the Mosul front lines several times since the offensive started, has vowed to rid the country of IS by the end of the year. Retaking Mosul could effectively end the IS group's days as a land-holding force in Iraq and deal a death blow to the "caliphate" Baghdadi proclaimed in the city in June 2014.
In and around Mosul, American and allied warplanes have destroyed nearly 3 dozen car bombs in 3 weeks https://t.co/4KnHfmUBba— The New York Times (@nytimes) November 6, 2016
THIS is WHY we do what we do..... Families seeing each-other after 2 years of hell. Never give up. Family is everything.#Mosul pic.twitter.com/vGgx1G3l12 — Baghdad Invest (@baghdadinvest) November 6, 2016