Army renews push against ISIL-linked group in Marawi

Aircraft bomb rebel positions and troops push further into Marawi City as death toll in Mindanao conflict reaches 350.

Black smoke comes from a burning building in a commercial area of Osmena street in Marawi city
The fighting in Mindanao province has now entered its fifth week [Reuters]

Philippine forces have launched a renewed push against ISIL-linked fighters holed up in the country’s south with the aim to wrap up the fighting before the end of Ramadan, a military spokesperson said.

Nearly 350 people have been killed, according to an official count, as fighting in Marawi city entered its fifth week.

Fleeing residents said they saw scores of bodies in the debris of homes destroyed in bombing and crossfire.

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Last week, the government said its troops had taken control of 90 percent of Marawi city. 

The offensive on Tuesday, involving aircraft and ground forces, came amid worry that rebel reinforcements could arrive after Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“We are aiming to clear Marawi by the end of Ramadan,” said military spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla.

Army and police commanders met in nearby Cagayan de Oro city to reassess strategy and operations against the fighters.

“We cannot definitely say when we could end this because we are fighting door to door and there are booby traps which pose danger to our troops.”

The seizure of Marawi has alarmed Southeast Asian nations which fear the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (also known as ISIS) is trying to set up a stronghold in the southern Philippines that could threaten the whole region.

Some Muslim residents of Marawi said other groups could join the fighting after Ramadan.

Fighting was intense early on Tuesday as security forces made a push to drive the fighters, entrenched in Marawi’s commercial district, south towards a lake on the edge of the city.

READ MORE: The battle for Marawi – Confusion and contradictions

Planes dropped bombs while on the ground, automatic gunfire was sustained with occasional blasts from bombs and artillery. Armoured vehicles fired volleys of shells while the rebel fighters responded with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades.

An army corporal near the front line told Reuters news agency that soldiers were tagging houses and buildings that had been cleared.

“We still have to clear more than 1,000 structures,” he said, adding infantry units were left behind at “cleared” areas to prevent the fighters from recapturing ground they have lost.

As of Monday, the military said 257 ISIL-linked fighters, 62 soldiers and 26 civilians had been killed.

READ MORE: ‘Hundred dead bodies’ seen in besieged Marawi

Hundreds of people are unaccounted for, believed to be hiding in the basements of the city.

On Monday, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines began joint naval patrols in their region amind increasing threats from extremist groups.

The “trilateral coordinated maritime patrol” was launched as authorities tried to stop any fighters from Marawi escaping to Indonesia while posing as refugees, Indonesia’s military chief Gatot Nurmantyo said.

The three neighbours agreed in May 2016 to conduct the joint patrols and share intelligence, after a series of kidnaps of foreigners by the Abu Sayyaf.

“The series of piracy attacks accompanied by kidnappings that occurred frequently in the Sulu [Sea] waters have had a huge security impact on surrounding coastal countries … and have pushed us to conduct a coordinated patrol among three countries,” said Nurmantyo when the joint patrol was launched at the Indonesian island of Tarakan off Borneo island. 

The Philippines claims control of 90 percent of Marawi

Source: News Agencies