A military helicopter hovering by a mosque is seen through shattered glass after fighting between government troops and Muslim militants who continue to hold their ground in some areas of Marawi city for almost a week Monday, May 29, 2017 in the southern Philippines. Philippine forces control most of the city where militants linked to the Islamic State group launched a bloody siege nearly a week earlier, authorities said Monday, as the army launched airstrikes and went house-to-house to search for resistance. AP/Bullit Marquez
MANILA, Philippines — The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Wednesday clarified reports that mosques have been targeted in surgical airstrikes in Marawi.
Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesperson of the 1st Infantry Division, earlier said that as long as terrorists use mosques as snipers' nest, the mosques would be targeted in order to save lives.
“Those identified enemy battle positions, they are targeted for surgical airstrikes so that we can gain foothold. That’s the development on the ground so that our men can advance in the inner heart of Marawi," Herrera said at a press briefing Tuesday.
Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, the army's spokesperson, assured residents of city, most of whom are Muslims, that the military would not target mosques.
"There is strict instruction from the chief of staff (Gen. Eduardo Año) that we will respect these areas, these places of worship," Padilla said in an interview with ANC's "Headstart."
He stressed that the military considers mosques as sacred areas and that they will avoid hitting the worship areas as much as they can avoid it.
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Padilla, however, noted that the military may hit the high areas of mosques if the local terrorists use the area as snipers' nest.
"If the enemy uses the parapets or the high areas of the mosque as potential sniper lairs, may hit on those areas alone but we will not bomb the mosque itself," the military spokesman said.
According to Padilla, the Maute terror group is using a couple of mosques in Marawi City as hiding areas.
Only four out of 96 barangays remain as areas of resistance in the Marawi after more than three weeks of fighting.
"There are four barangays who continue to have areas of resistance and not all of them are as strong as before. In fact, they are dwindling. This resistance is getting lesser and lesser by the day," Padilla said.
On May 23, President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law and suspended the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao following a clash between government forces and members of an ISIS-inspired local terror group.