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Middle East

Iraqi forces capture key bridge in push to liberate Mosul

A top military official has warned of 'fiercer' resistance as Baghad-led forces advance to the center of the city. Aid organizations have called for more support amid a looming humitarian crisis.

Iraqi forces on Monday seized Mosul's southernmost bridge, marking a strategic victory in Baghdad's campaign to liberate the city.

The damaged bridge links eastern Mosul, which Iraqi forces captured earlier this year, with the western part of the city, where thousands of so-called "Islamic State" (IS) militants are believed to be entrenched.

Iraqi Brigadier General Yahya Rasool told the AFP news agency that government-led forces have taken control of both sides of the bridge.

"The Rapid Response force and the federal police have liberated Jawsaq neighborhood and now control the western end of the fourth bridge," Rasool said.

In October, the Iraqi military, backed by Kurdish peshmerga forces, Shiite militias and a US-led coalition against the "Islamic State," launched a major offensive to reclaim the country's third-largest city.

The IS rose to notoriety in 2014, when it seized large swathes of land across Iraq and Syria, culminating in the capture of Mosul.

The city is a strategic stronghold for the militant group, where its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a so-called "caliphate" from a historic mosque.

As Iraqi forces continue to move towards Mosul's center, they have witnessed an increase in fighting from militants.

"The more we advance, the fiercer the resistance," said Lieutenant Colonel Abdel Amir al-Mohammedawi of the Rapid Response units fighting near the recaptured bridge.

Looming humanitarian crisis

The fighting has prompted thousands to flee, with aid organizations warning of a humanitarian catastrophe that could displace hundreds of thousands.

The United Nations' World Food Program (WFP) said in a statement Monday that civilians are lacking food, water and access to basic healthcare.

"WFP is monitoring the frontline and remains ready to provide immediate food assistance as soon as families can be reached safely," said Sally Haydock, the country director for the organization's Iraq program.

"We appeal to all parties to the conflict to facilitate immediate and unimpeded humanitarian access to all Iraqis in need of assistance," Haydock added.

ls/jm (Reuters, AFP)

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