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Iconic Grand al-Nuri mosque in Iraq's Mosul 'blown up'

ISIL blew up the Grand al-Nuri Mosque and its leaning minaret, the Iraqi army says, but armed group blames US air raid.

ISIL's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

The landmark Grand al-Nuri Mosque of Mosul and its leaning minaret have been blown up, according to reports, with the Iraqi army blaming ISIL for its destruction and the armed group accusing a US-led coalition air raid.

In recent days, US-backed Iraqi forces have been pushing deeper into the last remaining areas held by ISIL in Iraq's second city. 

"Our forces were advancing toward their targets deep in the Old City and when they got to within 50 metres of the Nuri mosque, Daesh (ISIL) committed another historical crime by blowing up the Nuri mosque," Staff Lieutenant General Abdulamir Yarallah, the overall commander of the Mosul offensive, said in a statement on Wednesday.

In a statement on its Amaq website, ISIL blamed US aircraft for destroying the mosque.

Battle for Mosul

Grand al-Nuri mosque is where ISIL's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made a rare appearance in June 2014 and made a speech while standing at a pulpit to proclaim the creation of a "caliphate".

Iraqi forces earlier on Wednesday said they had started a push towards the mosque. A US-led coalition is providing air and ground support to the Mosul offensive which began in October 2016.

The forces had encircled on Tuesday the armed group's stronghold in the Old City, the last district under their control in Mosul.

Iraqi officials had privately expressed the hope that the mosque could be captured early next week in time for Eid al-Fitr, the festival marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

The fall of Mosul would, in effect, mark the end of the Iraqi half of the "caliphate", even though ISIL would continue to control territory west and south of the city, the largest they had control of in both Iraq and Syria.

Baghdadi has left the fighting in Mosul to local commanders and is believed to be hiding in the border area between Iraq and Syria, according to US and Iraqi military sources.

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