The UN Security Council on Tuesday condemned attacks by jihadists in northern Iraq, warning those responsible could face trial for crimes against humanity, amid fears the besieged Yazidi minority could be wiped out.
Iraqi helicopters dropped supplies to thousands of desperate people hiding in mountains from Islamic State (IS) fighters, as officials warned that the Yazidi in the town of Sinjar, near the Syrian border, risked being massacred or starved into extinction.
A Yazidi lawmaker broke down in tears during a parliament session as she urged the government and the international community to save her community from Islamic militants who have overrun the region.
"Over the past 48 hours, 30,000 families have been besieged in the Sinjar mountains, with no water and no food," said Vian Dakhil.
"Seventy children have already died of thirst and 30 elderly people have also died," she said.
Dakhil said 500 Yazidi men had been killed by the militants since they took over Sinjar and surrounding villages on Sunday. Their women were enslaved as "war booty", she said.
"We are being slaughtered, our entire religion is being wiped off the face of the earth. I am begging you, in the name of humanity."
The UN Security Council said IS militants posed a threat not only to Iraq and Syria, but to "regional peace, security and stability."
"Widespread or systematic attacks directed against any civilian populations because of their ethnic background, religion or belief may constitute a crime against humanity, for which those responsible must be held accountable," said a Security Council statement read by British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant.
He singled out the plight of the Yazidi, a closed community that follows an ancient faith rooted in Zoroastrianism and referred to by jihadists as "devil worshippers".
"Many of these Iraqis have been displaced or forced to flee and seek refuge, while many others have been executed and kidnapped," said the Council statement.
Sinjar is also a temporary home for thousands of displaced people from other minorities, such as Shiite Turkmen who fled the nearby city of Tal Afar when the jihadists launched their offensive on June 9.
The attack on Sinjar sent thousands of people running from their homes in panic, some of them scurrying into the mountains with no supplies.
"Families who fled the area are in immediate need of urgent assistance, including up to 25,000 children who are now stranded in mountains surrounding Sinjar and are in dire need of humanitarian aid, including drinking water and sanitation services," UNICEF said.
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- Hundreds missing -
Iraq's ministry for women's affairs called for a coordinated Iraqi and foreign intervention to rescue the stranded civilians.
A Kurdish human rights official told reporters that Iraqi army helicopters had been air-dropping food and water to civilians cowering in the mountains.
Amnesty International also insisted a broader international effort was needed.
"Hundreds of civilians from Sinjar and its environs are missing, feared dead or abducted, while tens of thousands are trapped without basic necessities or vital supplies in the Sinjar mountain area south of the city," it said.
Pictures posted on the Internet by members of the Yazidi community show little clusters of people gathering on the cave-dotted flanks of a craggy canyon.
Others posted by pro-jihadists purportedly show a jihadist holding the severed head of a Yazidi man from Sinjar.
Yazidis have been chronically persecuted and surviving members fear the latest violence and displacement threatens the very existence of the multi-millennial community on its ancestral land.
"Those people are fighting for their lives in the mountains," said Yazidi rights activist Khodhr Domli.
Jihadists who already controlled large swathes on the other side of the border with Syria swept into the main northern city of Mosul on June 10 and went on to overrun much of Iraq's Sunni heartland.
The attack on Sinjar and the town of Zumar a day earlier gave IS control over Mosul's hinterland and further abolished the border between the Iraqi and Syrian halves of the "caliphate" the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, proclaimed in June.