Philippines launches offensive in Marawi, with aim to end battle by weekend

A report quoted Senator Ernst saying that the USA government wanted a bigger role in the Philippine military's operations in Marawi City as it feared that the area was becoming a new ISIS hub in the region.

The recovery is the "largest illegal drug haul so far" in the 28 days of fighting in Marawi City, said Galvez.

Fleeing residents said they saw scores of bodies in the debris of homes destroyed in bombing and crossfire.

The offensive on Tuesday, involving aircraft and ground forces, came amid worry that rebel reinforcements could arrive after Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"We condemn the acts of the Maute/ASG in using Mosques as battle positions as we deplore their use of illegal drugs that is equally evil as both are un-Islamic", he added.

Padilla said the military aimed to prevent the conflict from escalating after Ramadan ends.

At the same time, the Palace allayed fears expressed by some U.S. senators that Marawi could become the next stronghold of the Islamic State, to which the Maute, Abu Sayyaf and a number of other local extremist groups have sworn allegiance.

"I don't know that Isis are directing operations there but they are certainly trying to get fighters into that region", Ernst said.

Planes flew overhead, dropping bombs while on the ground, automatic gunfire was sustained with occasional blasts from bombs and artillery. Armoured vehicles fired volleys of shells while the rebel fighters responded with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades.

"Troops in the frontline say they are facing drug-crazed individuals who are evidently high on drugs", said Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division.

"We are moving towards the center of gravity", he added, referring to the militants' command and communications center.

An army corporal near the front line told Reuters news agency that soldiers were tagging houses and buildings that had been cleared.

The death toll from Marawi siege has risen to 539, including 26 civilians, 238 Jihadist extremists, and 255 government troops, as of 6 p.m. on June 19, Monday, according to a government report.

Hundreds of people are unaccounted for, believed to be hiding in the basements of the city.