MIRAMSHAH, Oct 9: At least 50 people were killed and some 200 wounded on Tuesday after fighter jets bombed a village market near Mirali town in North Waziristan, witnesses said.

They said two planes made six sorties around 3pm and dropped 12 bombs on Ipi village, three kilometres east of Mirali, that mainly targeted the small market.

The village is the birthplace of the Faqir of Ipi, famed for leading an uprising against the British.

Local residents said it was the deadliest attack since fighting began between security forces and militants in the tribal region on Sunday. A large number of people had started moving to safer places, they said.

(The Reuters news agency reported that families were streaming out of Mirali town of 50,000 people and outlying villages, making their way on foot, in tractor trailers and cars. “Eighty to ninety per cent of families of Mirali have gone. Just one or two people are staying behind in each house to guard their belongings,” Sher Khan, a resident, told the agency).

Military spokesman Maj-Gen Waheed Arshad said the bombing had targeted militant hideouts. He said he had no confirmation of how many people had been killed in Tuesday’s bombing.

He, however, put the number of militants killed in three days of fighting at 150 and the army’s casualties at 45.

The latest round of fighting began when the military came under repeated ambushes and roadside bombings, causing several casualties.

But what really incensed the military was the mutilation of bodies, some of which were decapitated and burnt, a security official said.

“This is not something new. No culture allows mutilation of bodies. Only terrorists can do such a thing,” the spokesman said.

“Locals should ask those who fire on security forces, carry out ambushes and roadside bombings and then hide amongst them,” Gen Arshad said.

“If militants fire on us from rooftops and compounds, they become legitimate targets.” The spokesman said that security forces were still trying to establish contact with the remaining 10 to 12 soldiers unaccounted for, but he did not know whether they were dead or alive.

Sattar Gul, a villager, told Dawn by phone that Tuesday’s attack had caused massive destruction and 70 people lost their lives while almost 200 had been wounded.

Mr Gul lost his nephew and three other relatives in the strike.

“About 20 shops and some houses have been turned into rubble. We have not seen such large-scale destruction over the past two years,” he said.

“I was watching the destruction from a hillock.”

He alleged that security forces had clamped an undeclared curfew on Mirali and people had to go to the small market to purchase essential commodities.

The locals said many people had been buried under the debris and they had sought help from people living in nearby villages to retrieve bodies and to rescue the wounded.

Another resident in Mirali said security forces were still shelling Ipi and Haiderkhel villages. He complained the incessant shelling was hampering rescue work.

The three-day gun battle between security forces and militants has paralysed life in the area as main roads have been cordoned off.

Meanwhile, the army lost two soldiers when a military vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Bannu’s Bakakhel area.