An RAF transport aircraft has made the first airdrop of British humanitarian aid to refugees fleeing Islamist militants in Iraq, the Government has confirmed.
International Development Secretary Justine Greening said the C130 aircraft made a drop last night on the Sinjar mountains, where thousands of people from the Yazidi minority religious group have been trapped by fighters from the Islamic State (IS), formerly know as ISIS.
The US has begun airstrikes against IS extremist targets engaging Kurdish forces near the key city of Irbil, but Britain has ruled out military action at this stage.
American jet fighters and drones conducted four more airstrikes on militants overnight, taking out armored carriers and a truck that were firing on civilians.
U.S. Central Command says the Islamic State militants were firing on Yazidi civilians taking shelter in the Sinjar mountains. In a statement, the military says the militants were firing on civilians indiscriminately.
Central Command says the strikes near Sinjar were spread out, with three before noon Eastern Daylight Time on Saturday and one about 3 p.m.
The military says indications suggest that the strikes were successful in destroying the armored vehicles.
This is the third round of airstrikes against Islamic State forces by the U.S. military since they were authorized by President Barack Obama.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has announced "a continuing drumbeat of airdrop operations" around the Sinjar mountains in the north of the country, where thousands of people from the Yazidi minority religious group have been trapped.
Two C130s left RAF Brize Norton yesterday and a spokesman for the MoD said one plane had made a drop of supplies including reusable filtration containers, tents and solar lights which can also recharge mobile phones.
The Government announced an £8 million emergency package, £3 million of which will go to charities and NGOs already on the ground and helping displaced people in northern Iraq, and £2.5 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
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Ms Greening said: "The world has been shocked by the plight of the Yazidi community. They face appalling conditions, cut off on Mount Sinjar after fleeing persecution by IS extremists.
"The UK has acted swiftly to get life-saving help to those affected. Last night the RAF successfully dropped lifesaving UK aid supplies, including clean water and filtration devices, on the mountain."
Speaking after chairing a meeting of the Government's Cobra committee yesterday, Mr Hammond said the wider focus is on supporting the refugees' exit from the mountainside.
Prime Minister David Cameron and Obama discussed the airdrops in a phone call yesterday, but admitted that a "long term solution" would be needed to quell the IS advance.
A Downing Street spokesman said: "The Prime Minister welcomed the US efforts and made clear that we are keen to work with the Americans on the humanitarian effort.
"They agreed that the immediate priority is to get vital supplies to those trapped on Mt Sinjar and the UK will join the US in delivering aid drops.
"Both leaders also agreed that aid drops are not a long term solution, and that a way must be found to get these people to safety and to avert a genocide."