MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi forces have captured the site of the Mosque of the Prophet Younis after driving Islamic State group militants from a new neighborhood in eastern Mosul, a spokesman said on Tuesday. The progress comes as the U.N. warned that nearly 150,000 people have been displaced since the Mosul operation started in mid-October.
The mosque was among dozens of historical and heritage sites destroyed by IS militants after their June 2014 onslaught.
The site is believed to be the burial place of the prophet Jonah, who was swallowed by a whale in stories from both the Bible and the Quran. It was built on an archaeological site dating back to the 8th century B.C. and attracted religious pilgrims from multiple faiths around the world.
Special forces spokesman Sabah al-Numan told The Associated Press that security forces found only the fences alongside the ruins.
The advance comes as Iraqi forces are pushing IS out of the last neighborhoods in Mosul's east and closing in on the Tigris river that roughly divides the city.
While Iraqi forces continue to make territorial gains against IS, Mosul's civilians continue to be killed, wounded and displaced by the fighting.
Walid Mohammed buried his son in a graveyard in eastern Mosul on Tuesday. The young boy had been killed in a mortar attack earlier this month, but at the time it was too dangerous to travel to the graveyard so Mohammed buried him in a school yard not far from his home.
"This is the will of God and his decision, he gave them and he took them back," he said.
The U.N. said in a statement issued late Monday that the Mosul operation continues to inflict high civilian casualties. The U.N. said more than 1,500 wounded civilians were taken to hospitals in the nearby city of Irbil for trauma care since the operation began in October.
The number does not reflect the estimated hundreds more civilians who receive care at field hospitals in and around Mosul. Iraqi and UN officials believe that one reason so many have been killed and wounded is that IS fighters have targeted civilians trying to flee.
The operation has also left more than 148,000 people homeless, according to the statement. Nearly 12,500 people were forced to flee their homes just over the past week, the U.N. said.
More than a million people were estimated to still be living in Mosul in October, when Iraqi forces launched the operation to retake the country's second largest city from IS.
Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad contributed to this report.