Iraqi troops faced stiff resistance Saturday from ISIS militants as they pushed deeper into eastern Mosul, backed by aerial support from the US-led international coalition, a senior military commander says. At dawn, troops moved into the Muharabeen and Ulama neighborhoods after fully liberating the adjacent Tahrir neighborhood on Friday, according to Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi of the Iraqi special forces. Al-Aridi says ISIS militants are fighting back with snipers, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortar rounds, the AP reports. Thick black columns of smoke were seen billowing from the two areas, while dozens of civilians were seen fleeing to government-controlled areas.
In the heavily damaged town of Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul's outskirts, meanwhile, Christians rang the bells of Saint George's church for the first time to celebrate its liberation from ISIS, which was driven out earlier this month. Much of the town has been reduced to rubble from artillery strikes and air raids. Parishioners, peshmerga fighters and Kurdish officials sang hymns and played band music as they walked in procession into the church, which was heavily vandalized by ISIS fighters. Men prepared a large cross to mount on the rooftop, replacing one destroyed by the extremists. (A mass grave discovered south of Mosul held around 100 decapitated bodies.)