Britain edged closer to military action to help the tens of thousands trapped on Mount Sinjar in Iraq today, as horrific reports continued to emerge of a people in a “scramble for survival”.
Pressure is mounting on countries around the world to join the US in a military intervention which Barack Obama has said is necessary to prevent “an act of genocide”.
Speaking after he returned from his holiday a day early to chair a meeting of the Government's emergency committee, Cobra, David Cameron confirmed the UK would “play a role” in delivering a plan to rescue the stranded Yazidi people.
France announced today that it would start supplying arms to the Kurdish forces who are on the front line against the Islamist militants Isis.
And on Tuesday around 130 US soldiers arrived in the Kurdish capital of Irbil, in what the Pentagon described as a temporary mission to help coordinate the rescue of some 50,000 civilians trapped up the mountain.
Mr Cameron said the UK involvement remained a humanitarian mission that would branch out from simply giving supplies to those trapped.
He said that Britain was helping to deliver ammunition to the Kurdish fighters - but drew the line at directly supplying them with weapons as the French have now pledged to do.
The Prime Minister added: “The first thing is to deal with this desperate humanitarian situation with people who are exposed, starving and dying of thirst...getting them to a place of safety.”
Though so many Yazidi remain on the mountain, others have now made their own gruelling efforts to escape - and have spoken to reporters about their persecution at the hands of Isis.
Survivors reaching Dohuk in northern Iraq said their nightmare in Sinjar began when the town was shelled by Islamists last week.
The Kurdish-speaking population fled up the mountain – a barren landscape ill-equipped to cater for the needs of so many desperate people.
Khalaf Hajji, who used to work at a school, said: “When we went up the mountain, snipers were firing at us. The girls were throwing themselves off the top of the mountain. We have lost all our faith in Iraq. They have hundreds of our women.”
Speaking to BBC Breakfast from Irbil this morning, a volunteer who helped drop aid to the Yazidis said they tried to rescue as many as they could.
Taban Sami Shoresh said: “Mount Sinjar is completely hemmed by Isis terrorists so they have no way out. They are completely trapped. So when we deliver aid it's their only hope and their only way out.
“When the helicopter landed I've never seen so many people scramble for survival. You forget who you are. All they wanted to do was get on the plane to be saved, and we could only take so much. It's horrific. It's heartbreaking to see.
“The world needs to open up their eyes to try and help them. We can't watch 30,000 people just die. That's complete genocide.”
Speaking to ITV News, the Kurdish government's key presidential advisor Hemen Hawrami warned that Britain and the rest of the world face the threat of terror attacks at home if they do not fight Isis in the Middle East.
He said Kurdish forces need "advisors, aerial support and armament" from the international community, adding: "We cannot fight back these heavy weapons of IS, this terror state, alone because the source of their financials. This is a real strategic threat to us and also to the international security as well."
The RAF has now made five successful aid drops on Mount Sinjar over the course of three nights, including thousands of reusable water purification containers and shelter kits to provide shade from the 40C (104F) heat.
But among those calling for David Cameron to do more was Colonel Tim Collins, famous for the inspirational speech he delivered to troops on the eve of the 2003 Iraq War.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said the aid drops were a “pebble in the ocean” and that ancient civilisations could be “extinguished” if Britain does not send in troops as well as arming and training the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.
The former Defence Secretary Liam Fox has also demanded Britain join the US raids on the IS militants.
He backed the use of the military to protect Iraqi civilians from “barbaric” jihadists, writing in the Mail that the West’s reaction to the crisis had been “catastrophic complacency”.
General Sir Mike Jackson, professional head of the Army during the Iraq War, said there is a “moral duty” to help with the humanitarian response.
He told the newspaper he would have “no difficulty at all” in saying the UK should be alongside the US to up the “British ante” to the use of airpower on humanitarian grounds.
Labour’s Douglas Alexander, the shadow Foreign Secretary, welcomed the use of British military assets to help provide aid – but stopped short of joining calls for the UK to take part in a US-style direct intervention.
And the Labour MP Graham Allen hit out at those calling for UK air strikes, saying: “Many MPs who voted for the Iraq war, started this blood-letting and the creation of Isis, have learnt nothing and bay for yet more violence.”