US-backed Iraqi troops have expanded their foothold on the eastern side of Mosul, the stronghold of the self-declared 'Islamic State' (IS) group. Many civilians remain in the city, making military progress slow.
The elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) took ground in the Tahrir district on the northeastern perimeter of Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, as IS warned of more suicide attacks.
One soldier was reported killed in the siege which began at dawn with airstrikes, gunfire and artillery.
Civilians pushing trolleys of belongings and carrying homemade white flags streamed out of the nearby Aden district as intense fighting continued. The women still wore IS-mandated black robes but most of them had uncovered their faces.
Iraqi forces aim to fully capture the Tahrir area and then storm the adjacent Muharabeen district, according to unnamed Iraqi officers.
The push forward comes after a lull in fighting on Thursday, when cloudy skies obscured visibility for drones and other aircraft. Instead, forces secured areas they had seized, set up checkpoints and swept for explosives, while residents restocked supplies.
Since launching the offensive on Mosul a month ago, Iraqi forces have only advanced into a few eastern districts. They are still fighting in 12 of 50 eastern neighborhoods.
"The advance is slow due to the civilians," Iraqi General Abdul Wahab al-Saidi said.
Mass grave uncovered
As areas fell to Iraqi control, troops discovered a new mass grave site containing about 40 people in a village 10 km (6 miles) south of Mosul, AFP journalists reported.
"The majority of them were members of the security forces, army and police," Lieutenant Yahya Jumma told AFP at the scene.
"They brought them by pickup trucks - they were around 40 people according to eyewitnesses who saw them," he said.
It is just one of several alleged execution sites found in recent weeks, including a mass grave found last week with potentially 300 bodies.
France calls for Raqqa operation
In a separate move on Friday, France called on the US-led coalition to surround the IS bastion of Raqqa in order to prevent the movement of fighters between Mosul and Raqqa.
French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said on Friday: "There is no offensive yet, but forces are deployed there in a bid to surround Raqqa and to avoid a possible movement of jihadists between Mosul and Raqqa," Le Foll said, following a ministerial meeting. "This is a strategic target, which is being put in place," he added.
Willing suicide bombers in Mosul
In Mosul, IS militants have dug in among civilians, hampering air strikes. They have been able to move around the city through tunnels they dug during their two-year occupation. IS fighters have driven suicide car bombs into advancing troops and hit them with sniper and mortar fire.
"We're giving you the good news that the number of brothers ready for martyrdom is very large and, with God's grace, the brothers who are demanding martyr operations are increasing," an anonymous IS commander was quoted as saying.
The Iraqi military estimates there are 5,000 to 6,000 IS fighters still in Mosul. The attacking force is a 100,000-strong coalition of Iraqi government forces, Kurdish fighters and Shi'ite paramilitary units.
Nearly 59,000 people have been displaced because of the fighting, according to UN estimates.