Iraqi experts probe mass grave site found near IS-held Mosul

Iraqi investigators were probing a mass grave on Tuesday that was discovered the previous day by troops advancing further into Islamic State-held territory near the city of Mosul, where soldiers have captured a sliver of land but later halted their advance.

Combat began at dawn with a Kurdish barrage of heavy artillery, Katyusha rockets, and mortar rounds slamming into ISIL positions, providing cover for the advance of armoured columns.

IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in June 2014, but has been on the defensive since previous year, and Iraqi forces backed by US-led air support have regained much of the territory they lost to the jihadists. "Humvees aren't built" to withstand a auto bomb, he said.

However, by late Monday, the battle still raged.

The assault on Raqqa, held by Daesh for almost three years, will be spearheaded by armed groups backed by the United States and supported by US-led air strikes. But video footage from the Associated Press showed a soldier holding up a child's stuffed animal found at the grave.

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Concerns over civilians do not play a role in operations in Bashiqa, Gardi said. "And now, according to our intelligence, there are no civilians left in Bashiqa", he said.

The abductions took place last week as Iraqi government forces, Kurdish Peshmerga and Shia militias backed by USA -led air strikes pushed an offensive to recapture Mosul from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 22,000 people have been displaced since the Mosul campaign began three weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said that the number of people displaced from Mosul district had risen to nearly 34,000.

The UN agency said water and sanitation in camps for the displaced could face disruptions as the number of people fleeing the city grows, raising the risk of food- and water-borne diseases such as cholera.

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Villagers in the surrounding area have said that Islamic State militants rounded them up at gunpoint as Iraqi forces advanced and made them walk to Hamam al-Alil. Other reports, however, said fighting still continued and that IS fighters remained in several areas.

Iraqi experts are examining a mass grave believed to contain around 100 bodies south of the IS-held city of Mosul.

AH-64 Apache gunships have been supporting Iraqi Security Forces in heavy fighting to expand a foothold in eastern Mosul by destroying Islamic State auto bombs and makeshift barriers, the Pentagon said Monday.

Zahida Fathi sat on a military-issued cot, rocking back and forth and repeating the names of the dead - her husband and six of her children, killed when a vehicle bomb exploded near their home as they were trying to flee clashes between Iraqi forces and Islamic State fighters in the city of Mosul.

The Iraqi offensive on Mosul, aided by USA air support, is entering its fourth week. As Alice reports, intense fighting continues in the city's eastern neighborhoods, and "an eyewitness inside says ISIS is preventing people from leaving, and mosques are broadcasting calls for people to join the fighting".

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The grisly discovery came as Iraqi forces faced fierce opposition from Islamic State fighters to their push further into the city.

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