The Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, has ordered troops to kill militants aligned to the Islamic State group even if the gunmen slaughter their hostages in a besieged southern city.
Mr Duterte issued his strongest warning yet to local and foreign militants yesterday who laid siege on Marawi starting on 23 May.
He warned he will not enter into talks with the militants, saying that he has lost too many soldiers and policemen to the violence and will not let that pass.
The military says 178 combatants and civilians have been killed in Marawi, the heartland of Islamic faith in the country’s south, after hundreds of gunmen waving IS-style black flags rampaged across the city, burning buildings and taking hostages as they battled troops who were backed by air strikes and artillery fire.
Troops have battled to regain control of most of the lakeside city, but the militants, who are believed to be holding a Catholic priest and many other hostages, continue to control pockets of territory.
The dead include 120 militants, 20 civilians and 38 soldiers and policemen.
“I was asked if I could negotiate. I’m telling you now, you can kill all those you’re holding now, but I won’t talk to you,” Mr Duterte said in a speech before peace talks advocates at an air base in the central city of Lapu-Lapu. “My order really is to shoot you and to shoot you dead.”
While he sounded tough, Mr Duterte said troops have held back from indiscriminately bombing away at the militants with newly-acquired fighter jets and ending the urban insurrection in a day because the government has to assure the safety of civilians trapped in the fighting.
Nearly 1,500 residents have been rescued from neighbourhoods at the scenes of clashes, including 179 people who were plucked from danger after troops held their fire for four hours yesterday in a “humanitarian pause” to allow the rescue in specific areas, military spokesman Brigadier Restituto Padilla said.
Marawi officials estimate that about 2,000 residents remained trapped in their houses and many have run out of food and water.
Officials say they have no idea how many civilians are being held hostage by the gunmen, but a Catholic priest, the Rev Teresito Suganob, said in a video that he and about 200 other captives, including children, were being held by the militants. Suganob apparently spoke under duress in the video, which recently appeared online.
The Marawi siege comes as police confirmed the man responsible for Friday’s deadly Manila casino attack was a heavily-indebted Filipino hooked on gambling.
Police chief Oscar Albayalde said his family confirmed he was Jesse Carlos, a former finance department worker.
The family said he was more than £62,000 in debt “due to being hooked in casino gambling”.
At least 37 patrons and employees died, mostly from smoke inhalation as they tried to hide on the second floor, including one the casino’s VIP rooms.
Carlos fled to an adjoining hotel and reportedly killed himself.
The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the rampage, but video footage bolstered the government’s case that it was a botched robbery by a lone attacker with no known link to terrorism.
President Duterte said the attacker was simply “crazy”.
More than 12,000 people were in the complex at the time; most were successfully evacuated. Many in Manila feared Friday’s attack was linked to the ongoing battles with militants in Marawi.
The fighting has placed the country on edge. Mr Duterte has declared martial law in the south.