By Hader Glang
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines
Philippine military forces continued their offensive against Daesh-linked terror groups in Marawi on Thursday, the military said.
Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson for the Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command, told Anadolu Agency at least nine Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists were killed in the latest battles.
She said the troops continued to engage in more intense firefights against the terrorists with military airstrikes and artillery fire starting at around 7 p.m. local time Thursday (2300GMT Wednesday).
"Those enemies who died in the offensives include men of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon who are digging for a tunnel under a mosque trying to escape the battle zone or reach the lake [Agus River]," she added.
The military confirmed earlier that Hapilon was still alive and inside the battle zone, despite earlier reports he had escaped along with Abdullah and Omar Maute, local leaders of the Daesh group.
According to Petinglay, the number of deaths on the side of Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists has increased to 548 due to continuous fighting in the main battle area.
At least 122 soldiers have been killed and 45 civilians have died. The remaining terrorists -- said to be 50 - 70, including foreign fighters -- have 100 civilian hostages. Four were recently rescued.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law on the whole island of Mindanao after the Maute group attacked Marawi on May 23.
The armed conflict has resulted in 359,680 people displaced, as of 29 July, with many living in host communities or in 75 evacuation centers.
More than 200,000 children have been displaced. Many of those living in host-communities are affected by scarcity of household resources, including food and school supplies, in one of the poorest areas in the country.
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