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9 killed as Indian troops target passenger bus near LoC

Updated November 23, 2016
Soldiers shift an injured victim from the passenger bus hit in cross-border shelling, at a military hospital in Muzaffarabad. —AFP
Soldiers shift an injured victim from the passenger bus hit in cross-border shelling, at a military hospital in Muzaffarabad. —AFP

Indian troops resumed heavy shelling on Wednesday after a day-long lull and targeted a passenger bus in Azad Jammu and Kashmir's Lawat area, killing nine people and injuring 11 others. Indian troops also fired at an ambulance which went into the area for evacuation, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.

A total of 10 people have been killed today, and 18 others wounded in Indian shelling.

Passenger bus targeted in Lawat

"Indian troops hit a passenger coaster with small and big arms in the town of Lawat, killing nine passengers and injuring 11 others," said Jamil Mir, superintendent of police (SP) in Neelum Valley.

"Four bodies and all 11 injured persons have arrived in District Headquarters Hospital Athmuqam, but five bodies are still in the coaster," SP Mir said.

The coaster was on its way to Muzaffarabad. Lawat is located some 90 kilometres northeast of here in the upper belt of valley that straddles the restive Line of Control (LoC).

SP Mir said shelling in Neelum valley had begun at about 3:00am, but intensified in the morning. Officials from other areas had similar stories.

'Give an instant and effective response'

Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif held a special meeting at the Corps Headquarters Rawalpindi to review the situation along the Line of Control (LoC), with emphasis on the attack by Indian troops on a civilian bus, said a statement released by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).

“Deliberate targeting of innocent civilians is unprofessional and unacceptable,” said the army chief.

General Raheel Sharif also appreciated the morale of the troops. He appreciated the “most befitting response given by the troops”.

The army chief directed the troops to give an instant and effective response for any future violations by Indian forces.

One killed, seven injured in Nakyal, Tatta Pani

In a separate incident of Indian shelling in Nakyal, one person was killed and six others injured.

Sardar Zeeshan Nisar, assistant commissioner of Nakyal, in the southern Kotli district said, "Shelling in my area has started at about 8:40 am, and it has been indiscriminate."

The assistant commissioner said six people were injured, and one person who was earlier wounded had succumbed to his injuries.

"So far, four injured persons have been brought to a health facility," Nisar said earlier, "But I am afraid there may be more casualties, as shelling is ongoing."

Tatta Pani sector of district Kotli was also receiving shells. According to an official at the office of the deputy commissioner Kotli, one person was injured in the area.

Locals in Battal, Madarpur sectors of district Poonch said their areas were also hit by heavy shelling.

"There were unconfirmed reports about some people having been injured, but we are awaiting confirmation," a police official told Dawn from Madarpur.

Pakistani troops targeting Indian posts: ISPR

ISPR in a statement confirmed that Pakistani and Indian troops had exchanged fire across the LoC on Wednesday.

Indian forces were targeting the civilian population, ISPR said, adding that a civilian bus and ambulance were fired at.

"An intense exchange of fire is ongoing as Pakistani troops target Indian posts."

Earlier, ISPR said, "Indian resorted to unprovoked firing and shelling on LoC in Shahkot, Jura, Battal, Karela, Bagh , Bagsar, Hotspring sectors today."

Federal cabinet condemns 'unprovoked' Indian firing

The federal cabinet during a meeting in Islamabad today strongly condemned the 'unprovoked' Indian firing along the LoC and extended its condolences to the affected families, Radio Pakistan reported.

The latest incident of cross-border firing comes just a day after the Indian army claimed three of its soldiers were killed along the LoC and threatened Pakistani forces of retribution.

The Indian army also claimed that the body of one of the dead soldiers had been "mutilated."

The Foreign Office however rejected the claim, saying that the "reports are a fabrication and a blatant attempt to malign Pakistan".

'Situation critical along LoC'

AJK Legislative Assembly Speaker Shah Ghulam Qadir who has returned from Neelum valley said the situation was critical all along the LoC.

"I call upon the government of Pakistan to raise the unprovoked shelling of civilian populations as an issue in the UN Security Council to build pressure on India," he told journalists in Muzaffarabad.

He said since Neelum valley was highly vulnerable to Indian guns, "a great trial had begun for its nearly 250,000 residents."

He claimed that Indian troops were not even allowing transportation of injured persons to Muzaffarabad.

Cross-border firing a new normal

Tensions between Pakistan and India have been running high following an alleged 'surgical strike', unrest in Kashmir and the Uri army base attack in September.

Since then there have been repeated outbreaks of cross-border firing in Kashmir, with both sides reporting deaths and injuries including of civilians.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stepped up a drive to isolate Pakistan diplomatically after the Uri army base attack in which 19 Indian soldiers were killed. Hours after the attack occurred, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh termed Pakistan a 'terrorist state' and accused Pakistan of involvement.

The Uri attack occurred days before Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was set to address the United Nations General Assembly regarding Indian human rights violations in held Kashmir.

Following the attack, India claimed it had conducted a cross-border 'surgical strike' against 'launch pads of terror' in Azad Jammu and Kashmir — a claim Pakistan has strongly rejected.

Pakistan maintains that India is attempting to divert the world's attention away from atrocities committed by government forces in India-held Kashmir.

Pakistan and India have, most recently, locked horns over Kashmir since Indian forces stepped up a crackdown against protesters after Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed by government forces in July.