MUZAFFARABAD: Previously considered to be comparatively safe, the remote Gurez sub-valley in the upper belt of Neelum district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) was heavily shelled by Indian troops from across the Line of Control (LoC) on Tuesday, leaving two civilians dead and four others wounded, local officials said.

Gurez sub-valley begins beyond Kel, located some 156 kilometres northeast of Muzaffarabad, and ends after 44km in Taobutt, the last village of Neelum district. Contrary to the lower belt of Neelum district where the River Neelum mostly serves as the LoC, the Gurez sub-valley is situated on both sides of the river and, therefore, is less vulnerable to cross-firing over the LoC.

However, on Tuesday this area was “indiscriminately” hit by Indian troops with mortar guns and field artillery, said Akhtar Ayub, a disaster management officer based in district headquarters Athmuqam, about 84km northeast of Muzaffarabad.

In Halmat village, Abdul Jalil Shah, 40, son of Samad Shah, was killed after being hit by splinters of a shell, the officer said.

Fatalities now number 37 so far this year

Three-year-old Nosheen, daughter of Mohammad Ramzan, became an indirect victim of the shelling, as the thunder of shells filled her with panic, claiming her life, he added.

He identified the injured persons, who were admitted to a military-run health facility in Halmat, as Ashfaq, son of Ghulam Mohammad Lone, Ghulam Rasool, son of Ghulam Mohammad Mir, Baggi Begum, wife of Rehman Lone, and Hajira Bibi.

Tuesday’s casualties have raised the civilian death toll in the current year to 37, while the number of injured persons has swelled to over 170.

SP Asif Durrani, of Neelum district, confirmed Mr Ayub’s account of casualties.

Mr Ayub said at least two wooden houses caught fire in Halmat and one in neighbouring Karimabad village due to the shelling and were reduced to ashes. Occupants managed to save their lives by fleeing to safety, he added.

Tariq Maqbool Khawaja, a local journalist in Dawarian, said some three mosques were also partially damaged by the shelling.

Last time, the Neelum valley was shelled by Indian troops from Chilyana to Sharda on July 30 and 31, leaving four civilians dead and at least 21 others wounded.

Kel and Gurez sub-valley had, however, escaped that shelling, which had seen the use of cluster bombs by the Indian army.

Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2019