UPDATED: Iraqi forces move towards Mosul airport, biggest mass grave found

A member of the Iraqi rapid response forces fires during a battle with Islamic State militants at the Tigris river frontline near Mosul, Iraq, January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Nineveh ( Iraqi government forces moved Wednesday towards Mosul Airport in the western side of the city, one day after commanders said intense bombing forced Islamic State militants to evacuate the facility.

Mawazin news website quoted military sources saying that joint forces from the Federal Police and Rapid Response squads moved toward the airport early Wednesday, backed by an aerial and artillery cover from the U.S.-led international military coalition.

The source said special bomb squads are leading the advances to defuse landmines planted by the extremist group on the way to the airport.

Alsumaria News quoted local sources as saying that intense airstrikes since early Wednesday eliminated an entire convoy of ten Islamic State vehicles laden with weapons and fighters. The sources added that the group executed nine members for failures and collapses in its defense lines at the nearby Ghizlani camp.

On Tuesday, news reports quoted Federal Police chief, Shaker Jawdat, as saying that intense bombardment on the airport had killed dozens of IS fighters and forced the group to withdraw from the facility. The forces had captured the al-Bouseif hills overlooking the airport and invaded the Ghizlani military camp which stretches nearby.

The Iraqi government declared Sunday it had launched a new, decisive stage of operations against Islamic State in western Mosul, having retaken the eastern region late January after three months of battles. Mosul is IS’s largest urban stronghold in Iraq, and its recapture would be critical in ending the group’s existence in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Iranian news channel al-Alam’s website said Wednesday Iraqi forces ran into a mass grave containing 2400 dead bodies at Arghanti village in southern Mosul. The website said the forces were working with experts to identify the deceased.

Several mass graves of civilians and security personnel executed by IS extremists have been found since government troops launched operations in October to retake Mosul.

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