Up to 2,000 civilians are trapped in Marawi as the military assault against the Daesh-linked Maute group continues for the eighth day.

Philippine Marines near the stronghold of Maute group in Marawi City in the southern Philippines, May 30, 2017.
Philippine Marines near the stronghold of Maute group in Marawi City in the southern Philippines, May 30, 2017.

Philippine authorities on Tuesday urged Daesh militants occupying parts of a southern city to surrender for the sake of trapped civilians. Security forces in armoured vehicles and attack helicopters continued to pound the militant strongholds with rockets for the eighth day.

More than 100 people have been confirmed killed in the fighting. The battle for the mostly Muslim-populated city of Marawi began on Tuesday last week when gunmen waving black flags of Daesh went on a rampage after a failed attempt by security forces to capture Isnilon Hapilon, the militants' so-called emir of Southeast Asia.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law across the entire southern region of Mindanao, home to roughly 20 million people, in response to the crisis as he warned that local and foreign militants were uniting behind Daesh and becoming a major security threat.

Close to victory?

The government says it is close to retaking the city from the Maute.

"We call on the remaining terrorists to surrender while there is an opportunity," a military spokesman, Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, told reporters.

But the militants, initially estimated by the defence chief to number just 100, have withstood eight days of intense air assaults and street-to-street combat, prompting the government's surrender calls on Tuesday.

"If you do that, it will be better so no one else will be dragged into this, no more buildings will be destroyed," Padilla said.

Asked why the government had issued a surrender call, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said: "To lessen the damage on the ground, definitely so the civilians will be less affected."

Trapped civilians

Up to 2,000 residents are trapped in areas held by the militants, according to the local government, and the International Committee of the Red Cross has voiced alarm that they will be caught in the bombing raids or crossfire.

The militants also took a priest and up to 14 other people hostage at the start of the crisis, and their fate remains unknown.

The Catholic priest appealed to Duterte to consider their plight and stop the military operation.

Father Teresito "Chito" Soganub, vicar general of Marawi City, and the others were abducted in a cathedral last week.

"We are asking your help to please give what your enemies are asking for," the priest said on a video clip shown on a Telegram channel used by Daesh.

"We still want to live for another day, a month and a few years, please consider us Mr President," he said.

A politician involved in efforts to evacuate residents, Zia Alonto Adiong, said authorities had cleared 85 percent of the city but reclaiming the rest would be a challenge because they were dense urban areas with trapped civilians.

"There's an intensifying military operation that's going on," Adiong told a media briefing.

Though most people have left, thousands are stranded, worried they could be intercepted by militants if they tried to flee.

Helicopters fired rockets on a pocket of the city held by the militants throughout Tuesday morning, and black smoke rose from the buildings that were apparently hit, according to an AFP reporter in Marawi.

The gunmen are being backed by foreign fighters, including Malaysians, Indonesians and Singaporeans, authorities have said.

Who is the man who triggered the battle for Marawi?

The violence began when dozens of gunmen went on a rampage in response to an attempt by security forces to arrest Hapilon, a veteran Filipino militant regarded as the local leader of Daesh.

Hapilon, a senior member of the Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom gang, is on the US government's list of most-wanted terrorists.

He was being protected in Marawi by the Maute group.

Source: AFP