Iraqi forces have entered Fallujah under coalition air cover as a new phase begins to win back one of Islamic State’s key cities.
Troops backed by artillery and tanks went into the city from three directions, commanders told the AFP news agency.
“Iraqi forces entered Fallujah under air cover from the international coalition, the Iraqi air force and army aviation and supported by artillery and tanks,” Lieutenant General Abdelwahab al-Saadi told AFP.
“Counter-terrorism service (CTS) forces, the Anbar police and the Iraqi army, at around 4am (0100 GMT), started moving into Fallujah from three directions.”
The commander said troops were meeting “resistance” from IS fighters.
Despite many people having fled Fallujah, 50,000 are still believed to be trapped in the city about 40 miles west of Baghdad.
Some 500-1,000 IS troops are estimated to be in control, with the jihadists reportedly using civilians as human shields and killing people who try to flee.
The army, backed by an Iranian-backed Shia militia, began the push to take back Fallujah on 23 May by tightening its grip on the surrounding rural area.
Fallujah was the first Iraqi city to be captured by Islamic State. Along with Mosul, it is one of two major urban areas held by IS.
The terror group took control in January 2014, six months before announcing a self-proclaimed caliphate in areas of Iraq and Syria.
The city had a population of over 320,000 in 2010 but this has dwindled, with the remaining residents hemmed in by the fighting, and enduring food and medicine shortages.
The Norwegian Refugee Council has said it is helping around 3,000 people who have escaped Fallujah over the last week, describing them as “totally exhausted, afraid and hungry”.
But aid workers fear they could be overwhelmed as forces push further into the city.
“Our resources in the camps are now very strained and with many more expected to flee we might not be able to provide enough drinking water for everyone,” said Nasr Muflahi, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Iraq director.
“We expect bigger waves of displacement the fiercer the fighting gets.”