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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Nine killed as India and Pakistan exchange cross-border gunfire along Kashmir frontier

Eight civilians and Indian soldier killed in fire and shelling

Indian women wail near the bodies of relatives killed om cross-border gunfire. Channi Anand / AP Photo
Indian women wail near the bodies of relatives killed om cross-border gunfire. Channi Anand / AP Photo

Indian and Pakistani forces exchanged gunfire across the tense, heavily militarised Kashmir border on Friday, leaving eight civilians and an Indian soldier dead.

The civilian deaths included a man and wife on the Indian side and a Pakistan woman and her three children.

The cross-border firing and shelling began overnight and spread to dozens of posts in the Jammu region of the Himalayan territory, said Indian police officer SD Singh.

Indian paramilitary officials said their soldiers responded to Pakistani gunfire and shelling, describing it as "unprovoked and indiscriminate". The officials said the paramilitary soldier was killed by a Pakistani sniper on Thursday night.

Along with the husband and wife, two other civilians were killed on the Indian side. At least 12 others were wounded.

A Pakistani woman, Kulsoom Hussain, and her three children were killed when a mortar fired by Indian troops struck their home, local police official Mohammad Amin said. The woman was making food at the time.

People attend funeral Pakistani villagers killed by Indian shelling in Khanoor Mian, along the Line of Control in Pakistan. Shahif Ikram / AP Photo
People attend funeral Pakistani villagers killed by Indian shelling in Khanoor Mian, along the Line of Control in Pakistan. Shahif Ikram / AP Photo

The exchange of fire between Pakistan and India continued for hours near Pakistan's city of Sialkot bordering Kashmir, forcing villagers to flee to safety.

In a statement, Pakistan army accused Indian troops of initiating an "unprovoked" violation of the 2003 ceasefire accord. The military said Indian fire also wounded 10 people, including three children.

It said Pakistani troops "effectively" responded and targeted the Indian posts from where the fire came.

As in the past, each country accused the other of initiating the border skirmishes and violating the cease-fire agreement.

This year, soldiers from the two nations have engaged in fierce border skirmishes along the rugged and mountainous Line of Control, as well as a lower-altitude 200-kilometre boundary separating Indian-controlled Kashmir and the Pakistani province of Punjab, where Friday's fighting took place.

Mr Singh, the Indian police officer, said authorities were evacuating civilians living near the frontier in armoured vehicles.

Pakistan's foreign ministry summoned an Indian diplomat on Friday and lodged a strong protest over the killing of civilians along the frontier.

A Pakistani villager holds remains of a shell fired by Indian soldiers. Shahid Ikram / AP Photo
A Pakistani villager holds remains of a shell fired by Indian soldiers. Shahid Ikram / AP Photo

The ministry said Indian forces have carried out more than 1,050 ceasefire violations, resulting in the deaths of 28 civilians and injuries to 117 others.

"The ceasefire violations by India are a threat to regional peace and security and may lead to a strategic miscalculation," it said in a statement.

Indian officials say Friday's killings took the death toll in such incidents to 20 civilians and 18 government troops this year. They say dozens have been injured and scores of cattle have perished.

India and Pakistan have a long history of bitter relations over Kashmir, which both claim. They have fought two of their three wars since 1947 over their competing claims to the region.

Separately, there were clashes between Indian Police and Kashmiri Muslims in Srinagar on Friday. The protesters were demonstrating against Israeli killings in Gaza.