KOHAT, Jan 10: A fierce gunbattle between rival sects in Hangu continued on Saturday amid efforts to broker an early truce to stop bloodshed.

Official sources said that 26 people, including the deputy chairman of the local chapter of the Ahli Sunnat Wal Jamaat, Mufti Rustam, had been killed and several others injured in the two-day fighting.

Eyewitnesses said that dozens of houses had been damaged in the clashes that started on Friday night.

The most affected parts of the town were Pass Kalay, Ganjiano Kalay and Sangerh Mohallah.

Fighters on both sides have set up control rooms for monitoring and gathering reports from the battleground.

Sources said that both groups were using heavy weapons like mortars and anti-aircraft guns. Big lashkars were being raised to attack populated areas of rival sects.

Many of the fighters had reached the area from Orakzai and Kurram agencies to support their sects.

According to some reports, as soon as the fighters entered the city from Kohat side, they were attacked by the rival sect.

Troops then opened fire to stop them from entering the area under curfew.

The Taliban and their rivals allegedly surrounded dozens of people and killed them.

The bodies were still lying in different parts of the town as security forces and elders could not reach the spot.

It appeared that armed men had taken over Hangu as administrative machinery was seen nowhere.

There were reports that the two groups had been preparing for a fight for the past one month.

The people were so angry that the whole administration, including police and security forces, had taken shelter and were not coming out to talk to the people or even fire teargas shells.

Helicopter gunships and fighter planes kept hovering over the area, but they returned to Kohat base without firing at the warring factions.

Officials said most of the people had vacated Hangu town before the start of Muharram. Only male members of families had stayed back to guard their homes.

A huge quantity of arms was brought from Afghanistan and Orakzai Agency for the battle, sources alleged.

A grand jirga, convened by Kohat commissioner Umar Khan Afridi, was held on Saturday to iron out differences between the groups.

The jirga was attended by Kohat DIG Qudratullah Marwat, district nazim Khan Afzal, district Khateeb Allama Jawad Ahmed Jawadi, Shabbir Khan and Allama Hussain al Hussaini.

The jirga failed to achieve anything and the battle gained intensity with the passage of time.

Six bodies of mourners killed on Friday night were brought to Kohat on Saturday evening and buried in Ustarzai Town.

One of them could not be recognised as he was a non-local. The people buried him along with the other people.

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