Government troops head to the frontline to battle militants in Marawi city. Image Credit: AP

Manila: Three soldiers and five extremists were killed during renewed clashes in a city in southern Philippines on the eve of Eid Al Adha, a military spokesperson said, adding the incident occurred when troops took a second bridge from the Daesh-inspired extremists — in a running battle that began in May.

This raised to 620 the number of Filipino-Muslim militants killed and 136, the number of government forces dead since clashes began in Marawi City on May 23, Armed Forces spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla Jr said on Friday.

About 52 soldiers and an undetermined number of extremists were also wounded in the incident, said Padilla, adding, “The offensive on the eve of Eid [Al] Adha has been among the toughest so far. We are working to clear the remaining areas where the enemy is holding out.”

Government troops also stopped offensive operations in observance of Eid Al Adha on Friday, Padilla said, adding, “Prior to the moment for prayers, we momentarily silenced our guns and ceased operations to show respect for today’s observance. The silence was observed for the entirety of the time for prayers.”

“Following a short pause early today [during the morning prayers] to give due respect to the solemnity and significance of this day, the operations will continue without let-up,” Padilla vowed.

The incident happened after government forces took control of Banggolo Bridge in Marawi City on August 31. Government soldiers are yet to retake another bridge near Lake Lanao, said Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez, chief of the Western Mindanao Command said in a statement that reached his Manila office. Troops have taken control of Mapandi Bridge on July 20.

Citing another victory, Joint Task Force Marawi spokesperson Captain Jo-Ann Petinglay said the military has also retaken the Islamic Center, also known as Grand Mosque, where hostages were taken during the first months of the siege in Marawi City.

But troops did not find any of the hostages there. They were moved by captors to another battle zone area, said Petinglay.

The remaining Filipino-Muslim extremists are now isolated on a 500 square metre area, inside well-defended high rise concrete buildings — they are not vulnerable to air strikes, their top parts are guarded by snipers, and their surrounding areas are studded with improvised explosive device, said Galvez.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in southern Philippines to stop Daesh-inspired Filipino-Muslims from spreading radicalism and hate crimes in other parts of Mindanao and in nearby Southeast Asian countries that have Muslim populations.

Congress backed Duterte’s request to extend martial law in the south until end of 2017,