Military declares Eid'l Fitr truce in Marawi City

Military Chief General Eduardo M. Año said his forces would implement a “humanitarian pause” during the Eid al-Fitr holiday in Marawi, the most important Muslim city in predominantly Christian 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,” Mr. Año said in a statement.

For his part, Presidential spokesman Ernesto C. Abella said in his statement the “humanitarian cease-fire” would be lifted “if any of these conditions become evident: (1) the security of government forces is in jeopardy; (2) there is threat to the safety of civilians; and (3) if the enemy starts firing and our troops as well as other authorities have no recourse but to exercise the right to self-defense.”

The Eid al-Fitr festival ends the fasting month of Ramadan when observant Muslims do not eat or drink between dawn and nightfall.

Hundreds of militants, flying the Islamic State group flag and backed by foreign fighters, seized swathes of Marawi in the southern region of Mindanao last month, sparking a bloody street battle.

Government troops have launched a relentless air and ground offensive in a bid to crush the militants but have failed after a month of operations, 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 centers or to the homes of relatives and friends in other towns.

In Iligan just north of Marawi, evacuees from the conflict dressed in colorful flowing robes marked the end of Ramadan by holding prayers on the grounds of the city hall.

Armed commandos from the police Special Action force stood guard as the prayers were held.

Mr. Año said the cease-fire will last from 6 a.m., when Eid prayers start, until 2 p.m. when festivities are expected to culminate.

But he warned the truce would be “lifted immediately” if the security of troops or civilians is jeopardized by renewed firing from the militants.

Military spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto F. Padilla, Jr. said around 500 civilians remained trapped in areas where the fighting is concentrated.

Fourteen people, mostly elderly, were rescued on Friday, he said.

After the cease-fire ends, “we will continue to try to enter the areas occupied by them and liberate Marawi,” Mr. Padilla said on radio station DZBB.

Nearly 300 militants and 67 government troops have been killed in the fighting, according to official figures.

Marawi’s Mayor Majul Usman Gandamra said volunteers are trying to take advantage of the lull to “rescue” some of the trapped civilians.

“This (Eid) is memorable because we are celebrating it away from our homes,” he said.

“We are hoping that this problem will soon be over…. I urge everybody to continue praying so that the turmoil in our city of Marawi will end,” the mayor said on ANC television.

In May, President Rodrigo R. Duterte declared martial law across all of Mindanao to quell what he said was a rebellion aimed at establishing an Islamic State province in the area.

A senior military commander said on Saturday that Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the Marawi attack and one of America’s most wanted terrorists, may have slipped out of the city.

Australia has sent two high-tech surveillance planes to help Filipino troops in Marawi, joining the United States which has also provided military assistance.

Mr. Abella, for his part, also said on Sunday the Philippine Navy has deployed BRP Davao del Sur in Cotabato.

“BRP Davao del Sur will greatly assist in our military operations in quelling the rebellion in Marawi. Apart from delivering military supplies and relief goods, the vessel will be utilized as a back-up floating medical facility to treat the wounded,” he said in part.

Meanwhile, two suspected Maute sympathizers and members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) last weekend faced state prosecutors for complaint of rebellion.

In a text message to reporters, Justice Undersecretary Erickson H. Balmes said Jadzrie Harad Saabdula and Jamal Kalib Jamil underwent inquest proceedings on Saturday morning, June 24, at Camp Evangelista, Cagayan de Oro City.

Police arrested the two on June 22 in a pharmacy in Zamboanga del Sur. “Saabdula is a nurse from Jolo who went AOL and was arrested buying a large volume of medicines (pain reliever, antibiotics, etc.),” Mr. Balmes said, adding, “He allegedly provided medial aid to combatants.” — main report by AFP, withKristine Joy V. PatagandIan Nicolas P. Cigaral