US Secretary of State John Kerry said today that Washington was urgently assessing ways to move civilians off a mountain in northern Iraq besieged by Islamic State extremists bent on converting or killing them.
"That is exactly what we are assessing," he said on a visit to the Solomon Islands capital Honiara, when asked about further humanitarian aid and how to get civilians off the Sinjar Mountain.
Thousands of members of minority groups, including Yazidis and Christians, continue to face a major threat from the vicious Islamic State jihadists amid a worsening humanitarian situation.
The United Nations said on Tuesday that 20,000 to 30,000 people were still stranded on the mountain, and UN minority rights expert Rita Izsak warned they face "a mass atrocity and potential genocide within days or hours".
The US has been leading an increasingly international effort to deliver humanitarian assistance to those trapped in the Kurdish region, and Kerry said ways to evacuate people were being discussed (See: US lawmakers, UK back Obama on airstrikes against ISIS militants).
"We will make a very rapid and critical assessment because we understand it is urgent to try to move those people off the mountains," he said.
After seizing the main northern city of Mosul in early June and sweeping through much of the Sunni heartland, jihadist militants launched another onslaught this month.
They attacked Christian, Yazidi, Turkmen and Shabak minorities west, north and east of Mosul, sparking a mass exodus (Islamists seize control of Iraq's third-biggest city, Mosul).
The militants also attacked the large town of Sinjar, forcing thousands of mainly Yazidi civilians to hide on Mount Sinjar, where they found themselves trapped in searing summer heat with little to eat or drink.