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12 killed as India, Pakistan trade fire in disputed Kashmir

Local residents gather in a partially damaged house caused by shelling of Indian forces at a village in Neelum Valley, situated at the Line of Control in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Friday, Nov. 13, 2020.

NISAR MUGHAL/AP

By ROSHAN MUGHAL AND MUNIR AHMED | Associated Press | Published: November 13, 2020

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan — Pakistani and Indian troops clashed anew in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, leaving 12 people dead, including three Indian and one Pakistani soldier, and wounding at least 36 on both sides, officials said Friday.

The fighting came amid increasing tensions between the nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors — since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, which is split between them and claimed by both in its entirety.

The Pakistani military and government officials accused India of initiating the fighting by firing rockets and mortar shells overnight and on Friday that killed a soldier, five Pakistani civilians and wounded 27, including women and children. Five Pakistani soldiers were also wounded in the clashes, the military said.

The fatalities were some of the highest reported in recent years. Sardar Masood Khan, the leader of the Pakistani-administered Kashmir, urged the United Nations and world community to take notice, saying he feared a wider conflict.

"If such Indian hostilities are not stopped, then it will also be difficult to stop a war between Pakistan and India," he said.

Earlier, Pakistan's military described it as the latest unprovoked cease-fire violation by India and said Pakistani troops responded by targeting Indian posts. Raja Shahid Mahmood, a government official in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, said several homes were damaged.

"People are running for safety in panic and India is deliberately targeting the civilian population," he told The Associated Press. Villagers were hiding in community bunkers as the exchange of fire intensified, he said.

Mohammad Shabir, a shop owner in the border village of Chakothi, said officials shut the main bazaar after rockets targeted the village.

In Srinagar, the capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir, the Indian army said three of its soldiers were killed and three others were wounded. According to police officer Mohammed Ashraf, three Indian civilians, including one woman, were also killed by Pakistani shelling. He said one wounded civilian was in critical condition in hospital and two houses were damaged.

Col Rajesh Kalia, an Indian army spokesman, blamed Pakistan for starting the clashes.

In another statement, late Friday, Pakistan's military said India launched the assault after four Indian soldiers died last Sunday fighting Kashmiri rebels in the Indian-controlled Kapwara district. The military said Pakistan stands "committed to defend the motherland and our Kashmiri brethren, even at the cost of our blood and lives."

In the Indian-controlled sector of Kashmir, rebels have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

On Thursday, Pakistan summoned an Indian diplomat to protest what it called India's violation of a 2003 cease-fire agreement. Two civilians were wounded Thursday on the Pakistani side of the border in that exchange. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry again summoned an Indian diplomat on Friday in protest.

Tensions soared in February 2019, when Pakistan shot down an Indian warplane in Kashmir and captured a pilot in response to an airstrike by Indian aircraft targeting militants inside Pakistan. India said the strikes targeted Pakistan-based militants responsible for a suicide bombing that killed 40 Indian troops in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir.

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Ahmed reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writer Shah Abbas in Srinagar, India, contributed to this report.