Philippine army suspends offensive in war-torn city for end of Ramadan


Fighting in the Islamist-held southern Philippine city of Marawi ceased for eight hours on Sunday after the Philippine military declared a “humanitarian pause” to allow Muslims to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

The truce was held “as a gesture of our strong commitment and respect to the Muslim world, particularly to the local Muslims of Marawi City,” said Brigadier General Restituto Padilla, a military spokesman.

No government forces were deployed and all aerial and artillery bombardment stopped from 6 a.m. local time (2200 UTC Saturday), but reporters from the Agence France-Presse news agency said gunfire resumed as soon as the truce ended at around 2 p.m..

Read more:  Southern Filipinos caught between violence and a humanitarian crisis 

Philippinen Luftangriff auf Islamisten (Reuters/R. Ranoco)

Fighting in the city has reportedly resumed

The Eid al-Fitr festival is traditionally celebrated by Muslims at the end of the Ramadan fasting period, with believers often taking part in festive meals as communities.

Civilians trapped

Marawi, the main Muslim city in the predominantly Catholic Philippines, was partially seized last month by hundreds of Islamist militants flying the flag of the “Islamic State” (IS) group.

Karte Philippinen ENG

Government troops launched an air and ground offensive, but have so far failed to dislodge fighters who remain entrenched at various points in the city, 800 kilometers (500 miles) from the capital, Manila.

Most of the 200,000 residents of the now heavily damaged city have fled, but Padilla said some 500 civilians remained trapped in areas where fighting is going on. Nearly 300 militants and 67 soldiers have been killed in the battles, according to official figures. Dozens of civilians are also feared dead.

Among the militants killed were foreign fighters from Chechnya, Indonesia, Malaysia, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Security officials have warned that more foreign jihadists might travel to the southern Philippines to support the militants in Marawi and try to establish an IS “caliphate” in South-East Asia.

Philippinen Flüchtlingslager in Lanao Del Sur (Reuters/R. Ranoco)

Many residents have fled to official evacuation centers

The Philippine military said on Saturday that one of the leaders of the Islamist attack on Marawi, Isnilon Hapilon, may have escaped the city. Hapilon, whose attempted arrest by government forces sparked the militants’ bid to take over the city, is one of America’s most-wanted terrorists.

Both Australia and the United States are providing military assistance to the Philippine government in its Marawi offensive.

tj/jlw (dpa, AFP)