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Iraqi forces claim to have entered IS-held Tikrit

Iraqi forces have entered the Qadisiya district of the northern city of Tikrit, captured by "Islamic State" jihadists nine months ago. It marks a new stage in the operation which started 10 days ago, army officials said.

Iraqi forces have taken control of the Tikrit military hospital, close to the center of the city, a major general has told AFP on conditions of anonymity. The forces that entered Qadisiya on Wednesday morning had consisted of army and the police, together with numerous members of the volunteer "Popular Mobilization" units, the officer said. Qadisiya stretches north from the city center.

It is the first advance of the government forces into the city.

The offensive stopped upon reaching Qadisiya because the troops came under sniper fire, apart from facing booby-traps and roadside bombs which had to be defused, security officials said.

Advancing forces came up against a minefield to the west of the city; "Islamic State" (IS) positions to the south were shelled by the army and from military helicopters.

IS assault on border town

IS launched a major assault towards Ras al-Ayn, a town of some 50,000 inhabitants on the Syrian-Turkish border, on Wednesday. Previously, they were able to take a nearby village, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

The IS assault comes in the wake of reported plans by the Kurdish militia to attack the IS-held town of Tal Abyad, which lies farther to the west along the border. This Arab-Kurdish town in the Raqqa province is used by IS jihadists to enter Syria from Turkey.

The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) control Ras al-Ayn and its surrounding villages. The YPG lost at least 12 fighters in the IS assault, whereas IS casualties are said to have been heavier. Battle continues to rage around the town, YPG says, but IS militants have managed to capture the village of Tal Ghanzeer, around 30 kilometers west of Ras al-Ayn, in the overnight fighting, the Observatory has reported. More than 1,000 IS fighters are taking part in the offensive, Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman told AP.

ac/rc (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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