Army renews attacks as Hari Raya looms
Philippine military aims to clear Marawi city of militants by the end of Ramadan
MARAWI CITY: Philippine aircraft and troops launched a renewed push against militants yesterday and a military spokesman said the aim was to clear the southern city by the weekend's Hari Raya festival, although there was no deadline.
The offensive came amid worry that rebel reinforcements could arrive in the city afterthe 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.
"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 the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
But he added: "We are not setting any deadlines knowing the complexity of the battle.
"We are doing our best to expedite the liberation of Marawi at the soonest time possible."
The seizure of Marawi and the dogged fight to regain control of it has alarmed South-east Asian nations, which fear that ISIS is trying to set up a stronghold in the Muslim south of the Philippines that could threaten the whole region.
President Rodrigo Duterte visited a school where people who fled from Marawi are being housed and apologised for their plight, especially since it was Ramadan.
"I will help you, I will rehabilitate Marawi. It will be a beautiful city again," he said at the school in Iligan city, 40km from the battle zone.
Brigadier-General 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," he 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 Mr Faisal Amir, who has stayed on in the city despite the battle.
Fighting was intense early yesterday 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 artillery.
Armoured vehicles fired volleys of shells while the militants responded with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades. - REUTERS