A local resident on Friday holds the remains of a mortal shell allegedly fired by the Indian Army in Jura and Shahkot village, Pakistan.
ARTILLERY BATTLE: Both sides accuse each other of an ‘unprovoked’ attack that came five days after six people were killed along the ceasefire line separating the nations
AFP, SRINAGAR, India
Indian and Pakistani forces on Friday waged their biggest artillery battle of the past year, leaving more than 13 dead and dozens wounded on both sides of their disputed Kashmir frontier, officials said.
Artillery and machine gun clashes were reported all along the 740km Line of Control that has separated the nuclear-armed rivals for the past seven decades, officials from the two sides said.
Hundreds of villagers were moved away from the ceasefire line in Indian-controlled territory, while Pakistani officials said that dozens of homes were set ablaze by Indian shelling on their side.
The new peak in tensions came only five days after three Indian soldiers and three militants were killed in an exchange along the ceasefire line.
India is also involved in a border showdown with the China in the Himalayas.
The latest fighting erupted early on Friday, with the two sides accusing each other of launching “unprovoked” assaults, and shells were still being fired into the night, residents said.
“Pakistan used mortars and other weapons” and “deliberately targeted civilian areas,” the Indian Army said in a statement.
Four Indian troops and four civilians, including an eight-year-old boy, were killed, army and police spokesmen said. At least 12 security forces and civilians were wounded.
On the other side, Raja Farooq Haider, prime minister of Azad Kashmir, the Pakistani-controlled part of the region, said that five people were killed and 31 wounded in the intense shelling in the Neelum and Jhelum valleys.
The Pakistani military confirmed the one of the dead was a soldier.
“For how long [do] we have to bear such colossal losses?” Haider said in a tweet directed at Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Indian officers said that the fighting was sparked when militants tried to cross into Indian-controlled territory at the northern end of the ceasefire line.
Indian troops “retaliated strongly, causing substantial damage to the Pakistan army’s infrastructure and casualties,” the Indian Army said, adding that ammunition dumps and forward bases had been hit.
The two sides regularly stage artillery duels across the ceasefire line and invariably blame each other.
Kashmir has been divided between the two countries since their separation in 1947. It has been a cause of two of their three wars since then.
Both countries claim the whole of the Himalayan region, where India is also fighting an insurgency that has left tens of thousands dead since 1989.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to visit troops in a border area yesterday for Diwali, the biggest Hindu holiday of the year, according to media reports.
Modi, who portrays himself as tough on security, has spent every Diwali with the military since becoming the country’s leader in 2014.
Modi launched what he called “surgical strikes” inside Pakistani Kashmir in 2016 after militants attacked an Indian base, killing 19 soldiers.
The neighbors last year staged air strikes against each other after a suicide bomber killed 40 Indian troops.