MARAWI (Philippines) • An eight- hour ceasefire allowing residents to celebrate the end of Ramadan in war-torn Marawi came to an abrupt end yesterday as the government continued its offensive against militants occupying parts of the city.
Assaults backed by air and artillery bombardment had stopped at the start of Islamic prayers at 6am, but gunfire broke out as soon as the truce ended at around 2pm.
The regional military commander, Lieutenant-General Carlito Galvez, said the truce allowed five Muslim religious leaders to enter the conflict zone and negotiate with the militants to release some civilian hostages.
"It's already been more than 30 days (of fighting) and we received reports that some of them have nothing to eat," he said.
The negotiators later emerged 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.
The military chief, General Eduardo Ano, had ordered his forces to observe the "humanitarian pause" during the Eid al-Fitr holiday in Marawi, the most important Muslim city in the mainly Catholic Philippines.
"We declared a lull in our current operations in the city on that day as a manifestation of our high respect to the Islamic faith," he said in a statement.
Hundreds of militants, flying the flag of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group and backed by foreign fighters, seized swathes of Marawi in the southern region of Mindanao last month.
Troops have launched a relentless air and ground offensive but have failed to dislodge gunmen from entrenched positions in pockets of the city.
Much of the lakeside city is now in ruins while most of its 200,000 residents have fled to evacuation centres or to the homes of relatives and friends in other towns.
An emotional prayer was held yesterday away from the conflict zone in Marawi, with several Muslim worshippers breaking down.
"This is the saddest Eid celebration in recent memory," Mr Zia Alonto Adiong, a legislator for an autonomous Muslim region that covers Marawi, said in a Facebook post.
"It pains us to see families who can't even share meals together, pray together," he added, blaming the militants for the turmoil.
A Philippine Navy ship has been sent to Cotabato, south of Marawi, to take supplies to soldiers involved in the fighting and serve as a floating hospital for the wounded.
Regional military spokesman Jo-Ar Herrera said yesterday that the military was also checking reports that Isnilon Hapilon, a key leader of the militant offensive, may have slipped out of Marawi.
Another key terror leader, Malaysian Mahmud Ahmad, is believed to have escaped from Marawi with Hapilon, according to Malaysia's Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK