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Four members of a family were injured in Leepa valley of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) in overnight exchange of heavy fire across the restive Line of Control (LoC), officials and residents said early Thursday.

Exchange of fire in the valley, located a hundred kilometres southeast of state capital Muzaffarabad, began at about 5pm on Wednesday and continued till 2am on Thursday, said deputy commissioner Jhelum valley Abdul Hameed Kiani.

“Initially the Indians used small arms, but later they resorted to use of heavy artillery, targeting both the army posts and civilian populations in Union Council Naukat,” he told Dawn.

“Pakistan army gave them a befitting response,” he added.

The Pakistan army refers Union Council Naukat as the Kayani sector.

In a statement, the Inter Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said that Indian border troops resorted to "unprovoked" ceasefire violation along the LoC in Nakyal and Kayani sectors late on Wednesday with heavy weapons and mortars.

"Pakistan army responded effectively on Indian posts to silent guns targeting civilians," the ISPR said.

Deputy commissioner Kayani said that a shell landed on a house in Channiyan village, injuring four members of a family.

Identifying them as Rafiq, his wife Parveen, son Taufiq and brother Nazir, the deputy commissioner said they were being treated in a local army run health facility.

Foreign office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria also confirmed that four civilians were injured in Indian shelling “with heavy weapons and mortars in Kayani sector”.

“Deliberate targeting of civilians by India is deplorable. The international community and United Nations should take notice of the situation. India continues to endanger regional peace,” Zakaria tweeted.

Shaukat Javed Mir, a Muzaffarabad based political activist who hails from Leepa valley, told Dawn that some houses were also damaged in enemy shelling.

“The shelling was heavy and created panic amongst people, as such an incident happened in that area after a long time,” he said.

He said those who had built bunkers long ago took shelter there after the shelling intensified, but the rest spent a sleepless night in their vulnerable homes.

“I am constantly in touch with my relatives and acquaintances in the valley and they have told me that many families in the most vulnerable spots either missed their sehri or took it hurriedly amid fears of being caught in shelling,” he said.

Incidents of cross-border firing have become a norm since the last months of 2016 as tensions simmer between Pakistan and India over the Kashmir issue. Exchanges of fire have been reported sporadically since the new year began.

Frequent LoC violations

Tensions are running high on the heavily militarised LoC that splits the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan for quite some time and have caused a number of civilian casualties.

Two civilians were killed and six others injured in Battal sector of Poonch district on June 1 while another two were injured in Nezapir sector of Haveli district on June 2.

On Saturday, Indian troops resorted to shelling in Tatta Pani sector, which was aggressively responded by Pakistan army.

Indian bunkers were destroyed and at least five Indian soldiers were killed and several others injured in what Pakistan army had described as “violent” response to India’s unprovoked ceasefire violation.

Amid unrelenting ceasefire violations by India, the director general military operations (DGMO) of Pakistan army had spoken to his Indian counterpart over this issue through a special hotline contact on Saturday.

The DGMO had told his Indian counterpart that killing of innocent civilians and inadvertent crossers at the LoC and labelling them as “infiltrators” was highly “unprofessional and un-soldierly act”.

It was further said that “any Indian misadventure from across or along the LoC in any form would be responded with full force at the time and place of Pakistan’s choosing with onus of responsibility on India’s aggressive behaviour.”

Tense relations

Following the Uri army base attack in September, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stepped up a drive to 'isolate' Pakistan diplomatically.

In the days following the attack, India claimed to have conducted a cross-border 'surgical strike' against 'launch pads of terror' in Azad Jammu and Kashmir — a claim Pakistan strongly rejected.

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

Tensions between the two countries soared recently as India approached the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to secure consular access for Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, who has been sentenced to death by a Field General Court Martial (FGCM) in Pakistan over his involvement in espionage and terrorism.

In a hearing of the case on May 18, a 10-member bench at The Hague restrained Pakistan from executing Jadhav, who India claims is a retired naval officer.