" --IANS"
Baghdad, May 27 - Iraqi forces fighting the Islamic State militant group on Saturday launched a new push into three neighbourhoods in the old city centre amid heavy clashes with insurgents, the military said.

The new progress began on Saturday morning when the Iraqi army pushed into al-Shifaa neighbourhood, the police and elite Rapid Response forces advanced into the neighbouring al-Zanjili area, and the commandos of the Counter-Terrorism Service pushed into the IS-held part of al-Seha, Xinhua news agency quoted a military official as saying.

Late on Friday, the security forces intensified rocket and artillery shelling on IS headquarters and their defensive lines in several area at the edges of the heavily-populated city centre, said a police statement.

Iraqi forces backed by the international coalition have been fighting to drive out the IS from western Mosul, but several neighbourhoods, including the densely-populated old city centre, are still under the group's control.

On Thursday, an Iraqi military statement urged residents of the remaining IS-held neighbourhoods to leave their homes through safe corridors.

We ask all of you to leave and move immediately to the safe corridors that we will set up for you. You will find guides, protection and vehicles to transfer you to safe areas, the statement said.

The government wants to avoid civilian casualties, who have been used by the extremist group as human shields, and to pave the way for security forces to free the rest of the western side of Mosul, the statement said.

Late in January, Iraqi President Haider al-Abadi, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, declared the liberation of eastern Mosul or the left bank of Tigris after over 100 days of intense fighting against IS militant.

On February 19, Abadi announced the start of an offensive to drive the IS out of the western side of Mosul.

However, the western part of Mosul, with its narrow streets and heavily populated neighbourhoods, appears to be a bigger challenge.

Mosul, 400 km north of Iraq's capital Baghdad, has been under IS control since June 2014, when government forces abandoned their weapons and fled, enabling the group to take control of parts of Iraq's northern and western regions.

--IANS

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