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Islamist militants execute over 500 Yazidi people in Iraq; some buried alive

BAGHDAD: Iraq militants have executed at least 500 Yazidi people, dumping their victims in mass graves across the north of the country, an official has said.

There is “striking evidence” that Islamic State fighters, formerly known as ISIS, have buried some of their victims, including women and children, alive as they continue their bloody advance across Iraq, according to the human rights minister.

The militants have driven as many as 150,000 Yazidis from their homes into the Sinjar mountains, where they are cut off from food and water and struggling to survive. Hundreds are already reported to have died. The jihadists have also kidnapped 300 women as slaves.

Human rights minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said, “We have striking evidence obtained from Yazidis fleeing Sinjar and some who escaped death, and also crime scene images that show indisputably that the gangs of the Islamic States have executed at least 500 Yazidis after seizing Sinjar.

“Some of the victims, including women and children, were buried alive in scattered mass graves in and around Sinjar.” Officials earlier said at least 20,000 of those trapped in the mountains had managed to escape into Syria and been escorted by Kurdish fighters back into Iraqi Kurdistan.

Iraqi Kurdish President Massoud Barzani has appealed to the international community for weapons to help them fight the extremists. On Sunday, officials said Kurdish troops have retaken Makhmur and Gwer, the first cities in northern Iraq since US airstrikes targeted militant artillery and equipment.

An RAF plane made the first British aid drop across northern Iraq on Sunday morning, delivering reusable filtration containers, tents and solar lights which can also recharge mobile phones. It comes after the US launched a fresh round of strikes in an attempt to stop the jihadists' advance across the country, following a warning from Barack Obama that he was ready for a protracted campaign.

The militants have been sweeping through northern Iraq, beheading and crucifying captives who refuse to be converted to Islam. During a press conference on Saturday, Obama accepted there would be no quick fix for the rapidly deteriorating situation in the country and vowed to continue strikes for weeks or months if necessary.

The President, who has ruled out sending in ground troops, and David Cameron discussed the commitment to providing humanitarian relief during a telephone conversation on Saturday. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond also announced on Saturday that there would be "a continuing drumbeat of airdrop operations" around the Sinjar mountains.

The Government has pledged an emergency £8m aid package to help refugees in Iraq. The strikes mark the first American offensive in Iraq since Washington pulled out its forces in 2011 after nearly a decade of brutal war. The EU has said the violence in the north of Iraq could constitute "crimes against humanity".

Foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement, “We are appalled by the rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation with hundreds of thousands of civilians, mainly from minorities, fleeing the areas of conflict as a result of persecution and violation of basic human rights.”