Abducted priest seen alive as Islamists hold out in Philippines

Marawi – An eight-hour ceasefire in a Philippine city allowing residents to celebrate the end of Ramadan came to an abrupt end Sunday afternoon as the government continued its offensive against Islamist militants occupying parts of war-torn Marawi.He stressed the need to punish the extremists who have wreaked havoc to the Philippines’ only Islamic City and forced more than 200,000 residents to flee to avoid being caught in the crossfire.Duterte declared martial law in the southern Philippines to deal with the Marawi crisis, in which hundreds of militants stormed into the predominantly Muslim city, occupied buildings, took a Roman Catholic priest and others hostage and hoisted Islamic State group-style black flags.In a press briefing in the besieged city, military spokesman Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera said that the militants leadership in the battle zone was already “crumbling” due to problems encountered such as depleting firepower and other resources and communication breakdown, ABS-CBN News reported.”The thing that is very important to note is that he is on top of every situation, he is aware of what’s happening, he’s updated regularly, he reads, he listens and he’s quite aware”.Their accounts could not be immediately verified independently of the army’s claims.Conditions for those trapped in Marawi have been dire, with witnesses reporting bodies on streets, food and water in short supply and a constant threat of being killed by either the fighters, or bombs dropped by government aircraft.The protracted seizure has anxious the region about the extent the Daesh agenda may have gained traction in the southern Philippines, which is more used to banditry, piracy and separatism than extremism of the kind Daesh represents.Hundreds of gunmen flying the black flag of the Islamic State (IS) group occupied parts of Marawi on May 23, triggering bloody fighting that has claimed almost 400 lives according to an official count.Heavy clashes broke out on Tuesday as the battle entered its sixth week, with intense bombings by planes on a shrinking rebel zone.Military spokesman Padilla said troops needed more time to finish what was a tricky mission, complicated by trapped civilians, hostages and booby traps.The government claimed those killed included 268 fighters, eight of whom were foreign fighters from Malaysia, Indonesia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Chechnya in Russian Federation.A negotiation to end the armed conflict was at place this week when an emissary was sent on Sunday to discuss with Maute leader Abdullah Maute to end the conflict. “Any demands made inside therefore hold no basis”, he said. “Let us remind the public, the gravity of the terrorists and their supporters’ offences is vast”.Herrera added the hostages assured Fr. Teresito “Chito” Suganob is still alive, who was taken hostage by members of the terror group at the start of the attack.Military officers, however, accept they lack solid proof of such developments and were working to verify intelligence reports.Herrera said the military was still trying to confirm reports that a key leader of the attack, veteran Filipino militant Isnilon Hapilon, had been able to escape the military encirclement.Gen. Restituto Padilla said the ceasefire serves as a “gesture of our strong commitment and respect to the Muslim world particularly to the local Muslims of Marawi”.