An Iraqi commander says troops are advancing toward to the center of Mosul, pushing back Islamic State fighters, but are hindered by sniper fire and suicide bombings as well as concern over the safety of civilians.

Maj.Gen. Sami al-Aridi tells The Associated Press Sunday that his special forces are searching homes in areas captured from IS, looking for militants and vehicles rigged to be used in suicide bombings.

Also Sunday, the troops laid siege to the Al-Zohour neighborhood in the eastern section of Mosul.

The arrival of the troops at the neighborhood's fringes prompted hundreds of civilians to seek safety behind army lines.

The Iraqi military last month began the campaign to liberate Mosul, Iraq's second largest city and the last major urban center in Iraq held by the militants.