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MUZAFFARABAD: Indian troops targeted civilians in the Neelum valley of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) on Saturday for the first time in almost 13 years, leaving at least three people, including a tourist, injured.

Military sources said that the shelling began at around 7.40am in Shahkot and Salkhala villages. At least eight shells fell on a rest house in Keran village, injuring a woman, a child and a tourist.

“The guests were having their breakfast when the shelling began,” said Khawaja Owais Ahmed, who runs the rest house. Schools in the Neelum valley remained closed due to the shelling as did most shops in Athmuqam and other towns. Frightened residents recalled the nightmarish conditions prior to the ceasefire agreement. They said though the shelling had stopped by noon, they feared it could restart anytime.

The administration asked tourists to vacate the valley till the situation returns to normal. AJK Legislative Assembly Speaker Shah Ghulam Qadir, who also holds the office of acting president, condemned shelling on civilians.

In a statement, the Inter Services Public Relations said that Pakistani troops had responded “befittingly” to the aggression in Shahkot.

Our Sialkot correspondent adds: There was intermittent shelling in several villages along the Sialkot Working Boundary on Saturday. Several residents of villages in Bajwat, Chaprar, Harpal, Sucheetgarh and Charwah sectors told Dawn there were barely any buildings, graveyards or fields that did not carry the marks of mortar shelling.

Sialkot District Coordination Officer Dr Asif Tufail said the district administration had set up seven emergency relief centres in Kundanpur and Daallowali villages in the Sucheetgarh sector, Phookaliyaan-Kahliyaan village in the Bajwat sector, Chaprar village, Harpal and Bajra Garhi. He said three emergency relief centres had also been established at Chak Amru, Shahpur Bhangu and Adda Dograan villages in the Shakargarh sector.

Our Narowal correspondent adds: There was no shelling in the Shakargarh sector on Saturday. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif visited the affected villages and handed out compensation cheques for Rs500,000 to the families of two women who had died in the shelling. He directed district authorities to provide the injured the best medical treatment for free.

Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2016