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Mosul civilians warned of imminent battle as Iraqi forces move in on ISIS

Click to play video 'Iraqi flag raised over Mosul university after city’s eastern half liberated from ISIS' Iraqi flag raised over Mosul university after city’s eastern half liberated from ISIS
WATCH: Iraqi flag raised over Mosul university after city’s eastern half liberated from ISIS

Iraqi planes dropped millions of leaflets on the western side of Mosul warning residents that the battle to dislodge Islamic State is imminent as troops began moving in their direction, the Defence Ministry said on Saturday.

The militants are essentially under siege in western Mosul, along with an estimated 650,000 civilians, after U.S.-backed forces surrounding the city forced them from the east in the first phase of an offensive that concluded last month.

The leaflets published on Defence Ministry social media said the troops had begun advancing toward western Mosul.

WATCH: Iraqi forces capture the Mosul University and nearby district

Click to play video 'Iraqi forces capture the Mosul University and nearby district' Iraqi forces capture the Mosul University and nearby district
Iraqi forces capture the Mosul University and nearby district

“Your armed forces (..) are advancing in the direction of the right side, relying on God,” read one of the leaflets, referring to the western side of the northern Iraqi city.

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“Get ready to welcome the sons of your armed forces and to cooperate with them, as your brothers on the left side have done, in order to reduce losses and speed up the conclusion” of the battle, added the leaflet.

Other leaflets warned Islamic State members to “lay down their weapons and surrender”, the ministry said in a statement.

READ MORE: Islamic State territorial losses hurting group’s pocketbook: report

The offensive to dislodge Islamic State from Mosul, its last major city stronghold in Iraq, started in October. The hardline Sunni group declared in 2014 a self-styled caliphate that also spans parts of Syria.

The defeat of the group in Mosul would effectively end the Iraqi half of the “caliphate”.

Mosul is the largest city it captured in both countries and its de facto capital in Iraq. Raqqa is its capital in Syria.

WATCH: Iraqi forces have begun the final push to take back Mosul. Mike Drolet reports.

Click to play video 'Mosul civilians warned of imminent battle as Iraqi forces move in on ISIS' Mosul civilians warned of imminent battle as Iraqi forces move in on ISIS
Mosul civilians warned of imminent battle as Iraqi forces move in on ISIS
Up to 400,000 civilians could be displaced by the offensive as residents of western Mosul suffer food and fuel shortages and markets are closed, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Lise Grande told Reuters on Saturday. [nL8N1G30CI]
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The U.S.-led military coalition said earlier on Saturday its forces had destroyed a building in the main medical complex of western Mosul that was suspected of housing an Islamic State command centre.

The militant group disputed the assertion, saying in an online statement that Friday’s strike had killed 18 people, mostly women and children, and wounded 47 others.

Independent media have no access to western Mosul or other areas under Islamic State control in Iraq and Syria.

READ MORE: Iraqi troops find ISIS chemical weapons in Mosul

The coalition said Islamic State was using the five-storey building as a military command and control facility.

WATCH: Starved bear, lion the lone survivors found at destroyed Mosul zoo

Click to play video 'Starved bear, lion the lone survivors found at destroyed Mosul zoo' Starved bear, lion the lone survivors found at destroyed Mosul zoo
Starved bear, lion the lone survivors found at destroyed Mosul zoo

The strike followed reports that the militants are dug in among civilians on the western side of Mosul and storing weapons in hospitals, schools, mosques and churches as a tactic to avoid targeting.

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“The coalition was able to determine through intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance efforts that ISIS did not use the building for any medical purposes and that civilians were no longer accessing the site,” a coalition statement said, using an acronym for Islamic State.