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8-hour truce declared in Marawi

by AFP and Francis T. Wakefield

MARAWI – An eight-hour ceasefire here allowing residents to celebrate the end of Ramadan came to an abrupt end yesterday afternoon as the government continued its offensive against Islamist militants occupying parts of this war-torn city.

Assaults backed by air and artillery bombardment had stopped at the start of Islamic prayers at 6 a.m. but gunfire broke out as soon as the truce ended around 2 p.m.

Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez said the truce also allowed five Muslim religious leaders to enter ground zero and negotiate with the militants 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 emerged from the conflict zone with five 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 chief Gen. Eduardo Ano ordered his forces to observe a ‘‘humanitarian pause’’ during the Eid’l Fitr holiday here, the most important Muslim city in the mainly Catholic Philippines.

The Eid’l Fitr festival ends the fasting month of Ramadan.

‘‘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,’’ Ano said in a statement.

Hundreds of militants, flying the flag of the Islamic State and backed by foreign fighters, seized swathes of this city last month, sparking bloody street battles and raising regional concern.

Troops have launched a relentless air and ground offensive but have failed to dislodge gunmen from entrenched positions in pockets of this city.

Much of this lakeside city is now in ruins while most of its 200,000 residents have fled to evacuation centers or to the homes of relatives and friends in other towns.

An emotional Sunday prayer was held away from the conflict zone here, with several Muslim worshippers breaking down, including the imam, television footages showed.

‘‘This is the saddest Eid celeberation in recent memory,’’ Zia Alonto Adiong, a legislator for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao that covers Marawi, said in a Facebook post.

‘‘It pains us to see families who can’t even share meals together, pray together,’’ he said, blaming the militants for the turmoil.

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