MARAWI, Philippines – The 8-hour ceasefire in Marawi allowing residents to celebrate the end of Ramadan came to an abrupt end on Sunday afternoon, June 25, as the government continued its offensive against Maute Group terrorists occupying parts of the war-torn city.
Assaults backed by air and artillery bombardment had stopped at the start of Islamic prayers at 6 am but gunfire broke out as soon as the truce ended around 2 pm, Agence France-Presse reporters in Marawi said.
Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez said the truce also allowed 5 Muslim religious leaders to enter ground zero and negotiate with the terrorists to release civilian hostages, especially children, women, and the elderly.
"It's already been more than 30 days [of fighting] and we received reports that some of them have nothing to eat," Galvez said.
The negotiators later Sunday emerged from the conflict zone with 5 civilians, including a mother and her 16-month-old daughter.
The woman said she had given birth to another child just two weeks ago in the middle of the fighting but her infant boy died due to lack of food, according to police who interviewed her.
A video released by the military showed the rescued residents looking terrified, pale, and haggard.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Eduardo Año ordered his forces to observe a "humanitarian pause" during the Eid'l Fitr holiday in Marawi, the most important Muslim city in the mainly Catholic Philippines.
"We declare a lull in our current operations in the city on that day as a manifestation of our high respect to the Islamic faith," Año said in a statement.
Troops have launched a relentless air and ground offensive but have failed to dislodge gunmen from entrenched positions in pockets of the city.
'Saddest Eid celebration'
An emotional Sunday prayer was held away from the conflict zone in Marawi, with several Muslim worshippers breaking down, including the imam, television footages showed.
"This is the saddest Eid celebration in recent memory," Zia Alonto Adiong, crisis management committee spokesperson, said in a Facebook post.
"It pains us to see families who can’t even share meals together, pray together," he said, blaming the terrorists for the turmoil.
At Iligan just north of Marawi, evacuees dressed in colorful flowing robes marked the end of Ramadan by holding prayers on the grounds of city hall, with armed police commandos standing guard.
Military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said around 500 civilians remained trapped in areas where the fighting is concentrated.
Nearly 300 terrorists and 67 troops have been killed in the fighting, according to official figures.
Military officials have said troops are having difficulty because the terrorists are using civilians as human shields.
Foreign fighters, including those from Chechnya, Indonesia, and Malaysia, are among those killed in the Marawi conflict.
A senior military commander said on Saturday, June 24, that Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the Marawi attack and one of America's most wanted terrorists, may have slipped out of the city. (READ: What ISIS follower Isnilon Hapilon's transcripts reveal about his childhood)
Regional military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-ar Herrera said Sunday the military was still checking the report.
"He (Hapilon) is not being heard or monitored commanding troops on the ground," Herrera said in Marawi.
Australia has sent two high-tech surveillance planes to help Filipino troops in Marawi, joining the United States in providing military assistance. (READ: Duterte on U.S. aid in Marawi: 'Nagpapasalamat na rin ako') – Rappler.com