Petrified women and children were buried alive in a mass slaughter by Islamic State extremists, it was claimed yesterday.
An estimated 500 Yazidis were murdered in the atrocity in Iraq, according to the country’s human rights minister. He also said around 300 girls and women have been kidnapped as slaves by the terror group.
The outrages have piled pressure on the West to step up its actions against the jihadists who have besieged around 150,000 Yazidis in the Sinjar region of the country.
Desperate families on foot continued to flee for their lives at the weekend. Children and stricken adults were carried during the exodus in the searing heat.
The human rights minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said there was “striking evidence” – including photos – showing “indisputably that the gangs of the Islamic States have executed at least 500 Yazidis after seizing Sinjar”.
He added: “Some of the victims, including women and children, were buried alive in scattered mass graves in and around Sinjar.
“In some of the images we have obtained there are lines of dead Yazidis who have been shot in the head while the Islamic State fighters cheer and wave their weapons over the corpses. This is a vicious atrocity.”
He added: “We spoke to some of the Yazidis who fled from Sinjar. We have dozens of accounts and witness testimonies describing painful scenes of how Islamic State fighters arrived and took girls from their families by force to use them as slaves.
“The terrorist Islamic State has also taken at least 300 Yazidi women as slaves and locked some of them inside a police station in Sinjar and transferred others to the town of Tal Afar. We are afraid they will take them outside the country.”
US forces yesterday unleashed a fresh wave of airstrikes against the extremists – also known as ISIS – near Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
The bombings, launched by drones and fighter jets, were aimed at protecting Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers trying to hold off the advance of the Islamist militants whose self-proclaimed caliphate stretches across a large swathe of Iraq.
US military commanders said the strikes destroyed armoured vehicles “indiscriminately” firing at Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar.
Britain has stepped up its humanitarian effort, dropping fresh supplies to the thousands in the mountains. UK officials believe up to 150,000 people could be stranded, with many of them facing starvation and dehydration.
But many have urged Britain to do much more. Lord Dannatt, the former head of the British Army, slammed David Cameron for going on holiday, adding that Parliament should be recalled so that further action could be authorised.
Lord Dannatt said: “From today the British should be joining the air strikes against Islamic State forces as they press towards Erbil.
Today’s Iraqi operation takes place under a very different set of circumstances to the one proposed last August to bomb Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons capability. In the face of a crisis of this scale, with the potential for so much human misery, this is not the moment for decision-makers to be on holiday.
“Parliament needs to be recalled and the West needs to face up to its responsibilities. We must make sure that we do not come out of this wringing our hands at another genocide and saying ‘next time, we must do better’. We are being put to the test, and history will be our judge.”
The demand to recall Parliament was echoed by Labour MP Mike Gapes. He said: “I hope we can then, with Opposition support, achieve a massive vote for UK military intervention alongside our US and NATO partners to defend and protect our democratic and secular Kurdish friends and to stop the genocide of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.”
Downing Street has not ruled out supporting the US military offensive if there was a risk of genocide. But experts said Britain had little to offer beyond special forces and intelligence gathering.
A Whitehall insider said: “We have no aircraft carrier and no aircraft to put on a carrier.” Senior Government officials yesterday held a meeting of the emergency Cobra committee to discuss the situation at which it was agreed to send
humanitarian advisers to the Erbil region.
The first UK aid drop took place on Saturday night with the RAF sending in 1,200 water containers and 240 solar lanterns which can be used to recharge mobile phones.
A No10 spokesman said: “We are working to step up these deliveries in the coming days.
“Meanwhile, we continue to engage with the US, Kurds, Turks and other international partners on how to get those trapped on the mountain to safety.” He added: “The humanitarian situation remains deeply worrying and consequently this continues to be our priority.”
It has been reported that 30,000 of the Yazidis may have escaped to Syria and then been escorted back into Iraqi Kurdistan by the Kurdish forces.
Peshmerga fighters have retaken two villages from the militants, according to a Kurdish military official. These reported triumphs in Makhmour and al-Gweir would be the first victories by the Kurdish troops against the extremists.
The president of Kurdish Iraq, Massoud Barzani, has called on the international community to send weapons to fight the militants.
The Iraqi government in Baghdad warned that the atrocities could not be stopped unless the world confronted the Islamic State threat.
Barack Obama said at the weekend the US air strikes could continue for months.
Mr Obama added it would take more than bombs to restore stability, and criticised Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shia-led government for failing to share power with Iraq’s Sunni minority.
The US has removed some staff from its embassy in Baghdad and its consulate in Erbil, the State Department said yesterday.
The Yazidis are a sect of around 700,000 people in northern Iraq whose religion has taken elements from various faiths.
Leaders of the Islamic State have accused the Yazidis of being devil worshippers, and have ordered them to convert to Islam or face death.