Iraqi forces capture crossing on Syria border from IS: Military statement

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Three years after they went missing, the government on Friday said that 39 Indian construction workers mostly from Punjab, who were taken hostage by Islamic State militants in Iraq's war-torn Mosul, were alive and "everything possible" was being done to ensure their safe return.

Meanwhile, the report cited a commander of the Iraqi al-Hashd al-Shaabi, as saying that the Iraqi group is waiting for the zero hour to attack IS in the Syrian city of Bukamal in Deir al-Zour province near the Iraqi borders, in an apparent coordination with the Syrian government forces.

Iraqi forces began an assault Sunday on Mosul's Old City, attempting to break into a maze of narrow streets and alleyways where hundreds of hardened Islamic State militants are expected to make a last bloody stand.

For several months there has been no food or medical supplies in the area due to the siege imposed on the Islamic State.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on June 16 that members of the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group are holding more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians as human shields in the Old City of western Mosul.

IS took Al-Waleed on June 22, 2014, as its forces captured large chuncks of territory from Syrian and Iraqi government forces, declaring capitals in the Syrian town of Raqqa and the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Iraqi forces for five days have used loudspeakers to urge Islamic State militants in the Old City to surrender.

Syrian troops in the area are preparing to march on Islamic State positions to the north, in the Euphrates River Valley.

US -backed Iraqi troops pushed into the last Islamic State stronghold in Mosul on Sunday, an Iraqi commander said, formally launching the final major battle of an eight-month campaign to drive the militants from Iraq's second largest city. The extremists now control only a handful of neighborhoods in and around the Old City.

- January 24: The Joint Operations Command coordinating the fight says the east has been "fully liberated".

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks Syria's war, says airstrikes by the US -led coalition since June 6 have killed 117 civilians and wounded hundreds. Al-Asadi said the troops "will be very careful" to protect the civilians in the densely populated area.

The group is also retreating in Syria, mainly in the face of a US -backed, Kurdish-led coalition. Its capital there, Raqqa, is being besieged.

US airstrikes have killed several commanders of the group over the past two years, including Abu Omar al-Shishani, a top military commander, chief propagandist Abu Mohammed al-Adani, and Abu Ali al-Anbari, the former top civilian administrator.

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