Children play near the ruins of al-Nuri Mosque in the old city of Mosul, northern Iraq, on Dec. 6, 2018. Iraqi authorities on Thursday began removing debris from the site of the ancient al-Nuri Mosque destroyed last year during battles to dislodge the Islamic State (IS) militants from the old city center of Iraq's second largest city Mosul. (Xinhua/Khalil Dawood)
MOSUL, Iraq, Dec. 6 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi authorities on Thursday began removing debris from the site of the ancient al-Nuri Mosque destroyed last year during battles to dislodge the Islamic State (IS) militants from the old city center of Iraq's second largest city Mosul.
In the morning, a team of Mosul municipality and explosive experts started removing the debris in the site.
On June 21, 2017, IS militants blew up al-Nuri Mosque and its al-Hadbaa minaret, as Iraqi forces were pushing near the Mosque area in the western side of Mosul.
"Removing the debris was preceded by checks to defuse bombs possibly planted by IS militants," Ahmed Ghazi, from engineering force of the army's 16th Division, told Xinhua at the scene.
Khalid Mohammed, official from the provincial government, told Xinhua that the team is removing some of the debris and will avoid the original historic bricks of al-Hadbaa minaret, which must be used again to rebuild it.
Abu Ahmed Dha An-Noon, resident near the mosque, considered the move as a "positive sign" for a serious start to rebuild the mosque which is part of the identity of Mosul's people.
"Rebuilding al-Nuri Mosque represents a hope for the residents of the old city to return to rebuild their houses as most of them were badly damaged," Dha An-Noon told Xinhua at the scene.
"Rebuilding the mosque is important because it will encourage people from outside the old city to visit the historic and religious site and bring normality to the old city," Dha An-Noon added.
Al-Nuri Mosque was built in 1172 A.D. with its famous leaning minaret, which gave the city its nickname "al-Hadbaa" or "the hunchback".
The mosque has a symbolic value, as it was the place where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the cross-border "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria in his sole public appearance in July 2014.
On July 10 last year, Abadi officially declared Mosul's liberation from IS after nearly nine months of fierce fighting to dislodge the extremist militants from their last major stronghold in Iraq.
In April, Iraq, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) signed an agreement of partnership to exploit 50.4 million U.S. dollars offered by UAE to rebuild the historical mosque and its famous leaning minaret.
According to a UNESCO statement, the first year of rebuilding will focus on "documenting and clearing the site," in addition to drawing plans for its reconstruction.
The following four years will focus on the "restoration and historically faithful reconstruction of the leaning minaret of the al-Nuri Mosque and adjacent buildings," the statement added.
The plan will also include "the city's historic gardens and other open spaces and infrastructures, in addition to building a memorial and a museum at the mosque site," UNESCO said.
The remove of the debris came three days ahead of the first anniversary of declaring full liberation of Iraq from the IS extremist group.