Updated at 4:25 p.m. ET on 2018-03-18
A couple and their three minor children were killed Sunday when the Pakistani army allegedly fired mortar shells along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir, Indian officials said.
At least eight other civilians including the couple’s two other daughters were critically wounded in the shelling that began early Sunday and lasted four hours in Poonch, a district in Indian Kashmir, Deputy Commissioner Tariq Ahmad Zargar told BenarNews.
Tensions escalated after five Indian army soldiers were wounded when troops traded shelling about 30 km (18.6 miles) from where the family members were killed, defense officials said.
Pakistan accused India of initiating violence and said at least six civilians, including five women, were wounded in the shelling by Indian army along the LoC, the de-facto border that divides the disputed Himalayan region of Indian Kashmir between the two arch rivals.
The fighting is the latest violation of their 2003 ceasefire agreement. An Indian army officer and three soldiers were killed in alleged Pakistani shelling along the LoC last month.
Farooq Hadier Khan, prime minister of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, who visited the injured Pakistanis at a hospital, condemned unprovoked shelling of border villages, according to a statement.
Indian authorities, on the other hand, blamed Pakistani aggression.
“Indian forces responded forcefully forcing Pakistani guns to fall silent,” Zargar said.
“The shelling has stopped but there is panic among the affected villagers. The injured have been shifted to medical college Jammu for advanced treatment. Two minor siblings of the family, who suffered head injuries’ are in a critical condition,” he added.
Locals said the family was having breakfast when a shell fired from across the LoC exploded in their house. Authorities’ ordered Poonch schools closed until Tuesday.
India condemned what it called unprovoked violence.
“Pakistan is resorting to ceasefire violations in frustration as its forces have suffered heavy losses at the hands of Indian security forces,” Jitendra Singh, a senior minister in the Indian prime minister’s office, said in a statement.
“Narendra Modi’s government has given full freedom to security forces to respond in a manner to Pakistani aggression they deem appropriate,” he added.
‘Cannot leave homes’
Villagers who are reluctant to move are asking the government to construct concrete bunkers for their safety.
“How can we leave our homes and livestock behind and shift to a safer places,” Jamal Khan, a Poonch villager, told BenarNews.
“The authorities should build concrete bunkers near our homes so we can take shelter as soon as Pakistani army resorts to shelling. But every time shelling occurs from across the LoC, authorities ask us to shift to schools to save our lives,” he added.
Naseema Begum, a housewife, echoed his concerns.
“The authorities’ should either shift us permanently to safer places miles away from the border or build bunkers to avoid human causalities,” she told BenarNews. “The authorities must take long-term safety measures to save the lives and property of border residents, who for a long time have been at the receiving end of hostilities between two countries.”