Philippines launches offensive in Marawi, with aim to end battle by weekend


Reuters

By Manuel Mogato
    MARAWI CITY, Philippines, June 20 (Reuters) - Philippine
aircraft bombed rebel positions and ground troops launched a
renewed push against Islamist militants holed up in a southern
city on Tuesday, with the aim was to wrap up the fighting before
the weekend Eid festival, a spokesman said.
    The offensive came amid worry that rebel reinforcements
could arrive after Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the
Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
    Fighting in Marawi City has entered a fifth week, and nearly
350 people have been killed, according to an official count.
Fleeing residents have said they have seen scores of bodies in
the debris of homes destroyed in bombing and cross-fire.
    "We are aiming to clear Marawi by the end of Ramadan," said
military spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, as army
and police commanders met in nearby Cagayan de Oro city to
reassess strategy and operations against the militants, who
claim allegiance to Islamic State.
    "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 Islamic State - on a backfoot in Iraq and Syria - is
trying to set up a stronghold in the southern Philippines that
could threaten the whole region.
    Padilla said the military aimed to prevent the conflict from
escalating after Ramadan ends.
    "We are closely watching certain groups and we hope they
will not join the fight," Padilla said.
    Some Muslim residents of Marawi said other groups could join
the fighting after Ramadan.
    "As devout Muslims, we are forbidden to fight during Ramadan
so afterwards, there may be new groups coming in," said Faisal
Amir, who has stayed on in the city despite the battle.
    Fighting was intense early on Tuesday as security forces
made a push to drive the militants, entrenched in Marawi's
commercial district, south towards a lake on the edge of the
city.
    Planes flew overhead, dropping bombs while on the ground,
automatic gunfire was sustained with occasional blasts from
bombs and artillery. Armoured vehicles fired volleys of shells
while the militants responded with gunfire and rocket-propelled
grenades.
    An army corporal near the front line told Reuters 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 militants from recapturing ground they have lost.
    As of Monday, the military said 257 militants, 62 soldiers
and 26 civilians had been killed. Hundreds of people are
unaccounted for, believed to be hiding in the basements of the
city.

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Battle for Marawi    http://tmsnrt.rs/2rhRPEa
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 (Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Robert Birsel)
 ((Raju.Gopalakrishnan@thomsonreuters.com;))

Keywords: PHILIPPINES MILITANTS/ (PIX, TV, GRAPHIC)



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