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500 civilians dead as militants bury women and children alive

Militants in north-western Iraq have buried women and children alive during their offensive against the Yazidi ethnic minority, according to Iraq's minister for human rights.

The bodies were reportedly found in a mass grave in the wake of Isis's push towards the Sinjar mountain range, where tens of thousands of Kurdish-speaking refugees have been trapped to the point of starvation.

Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said his government had evidence that 500 Yazidi civilians had been killed so far, and that some of the victims had been buried alive. A further 300 Yazidi women have been kidnapped as slaves, he added.

The Isis offensive against the Yazidi people has been described as "genocide in [both] the literal and legalistic sense", and the UN estimates that at least 56 children have died of dehydration alone in the Sinjar mountain camps.

The increasingly horrific nature of Isis's campaign in northern Iraq has now provoked the US to take action, with Barack Obama saying that this was needed to prevent more deaths and provide humanitarian 
aid.

He justified the military action by saying America must act now to prevent genocide, protect its diplomats and provide humanitarian aid to refugees trapped by Islamic State militants on a mountain ridge near the Syrian border.

breaking

Mr Obama said it was "going to be a long-term project" that will not end and cannot succeed unless Iraqis form an inclusive government in Baghdad capable of keeping the country from breaking apart.

US planes and drones launched four airstrikes on Islamic State forces as they fired indiscriminately on Yazidi civilians taking shelter in the Sinjar mountains, US Central Command said.

The strikes, which were spread out during Saturday and Sunday, destroyed armoured carriers and a truck and included an armed vehicle that was firing on Kurdish forces in the approaches to the city of Irbil.

The military says the latest airstrikes took place from about 2.15am Eastern Daylight Time yesterday to about 5.45am.

It was the fourth round of airstrikes against Islamic State forces by the US military since they were authorised by the president on Thursday. The military support has also been helping clear the way for aid flights to drop food and water to thousands of starving refugees in the Sinjar area.

Central Command announced the military had made the third such drop, delivering another 72 bundles of supplies, including more than 3,800 gallons of water and more than 16,000 meals.

But the help comes too late for many of the religious minorities targeted for elimination by the Islamic State group, which swept past US-trained and equipped Iraqi government forces in recent weeks and now controls much of Iraq.

US, Iraqi and British cargo planes dropped tons of food, water, tents and other equipment to the refugees on Friday and yesterday.

Iraq's defence ministry released a video showing people in the Sinjar mountains rushing to collect food and water as the Iraqi government's fleet of C130 cargo planes dropped 20 tons of aid at a time.

But at least 56 children have died of dehydration in the mountains, UNICEF's spokesman in Iraq, Karim Elkorany, said. British officials estimated between 50,000 and 150,000 people could be trapped on the mountain.

Juan Mohammed, a local government spokesman in the Syrian city of Qamishli, said more than 20,000 starving Yazidis are fleeing across the border, braving gunfire through a tenuous "safe passage" that Kurdish peshmerga forces are trying to protect.

hiding

With shocked, sunburnt faces, men, women and children limped to a camp for displaced Iraqis, finding safety after harsh days of hiding on a blazing mountaintop, fleeing the Islamic State extremists.

Children who died of thirst were left behind and some exhausted mothers abandoned living babies, as thousands of Yazidis trekked across a rocky mountain chain in temperatures over 100F (38C).

They crossed into neighbouring Syria, and then looped back into Iraq to reach safety at the Bajid Kandala camp.

Other Yazidis have settled in refugee camps in Syria - so awful is their situation, they have sought safety in a country aflame in a civil war.

The US military officially withdrew its combat forces in late 2011 after more than eight years of war in Iraq.

It returned to battle on Friday when two F/A-18 jets dropped 500lb bombs on Islamic State fighters advancing on the Kurdish capital of Irbil as violence sent the number of displaced Iraqis soaring.

Mr Obama was adamant that US troops cannot bring peace to Iraq.

"We can conduct airstrikes, but ultimately there's not going to be an American military solution to this problem. There's going to have to be an Iraqi solution that America and other countries and allies support," he said.

The Pentagon said the militants were using the artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Irbil, the capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, home 
to a US consulate and about three dozen U.S. military 
trainers.

hnews@herald.ie


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