Stepping up their attacks, Pakistani troops Tuesday shelled Indian civilian areas along the border from Samba to Poonch, leaving eight persons dead and at least 20 others injured. Among the dead were two children and four women. Officials said Pakistani troops were raining 82 mm and 120 mm mortar shells on civilian areas including Mendhar town, sharply escalating the situation on the border where troops on either side have been trading fire ever since India announced its surgical strikes on terror launch pads along the Line of Control on September 29.
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Six of the eight deaths took place in the Arnia sector of Samba district while two deaths were reported from the Tarkundi area of Rajouri district. At least ten injured were admitted to the Government Medical College Hospital in Jammu. The shelling has led to an exodus from nearly 20 villages along the border in the Arnia sector. While many shifted to the homes of their relatives, a large number of people turned up at camps set up by the state government. In view of the escalation in hostilities, the J&K government has ordered closure of all schools near the border in Jammu.
Official sources said Pakistani troops appeared to have increased the range of the shelling, targeting Mendhar town for the first time. Three persons — Rukhsana Akhtar, her mother Javeda Begum and one Tahir Iqbal — were injured when 120 mm shells struck the boundary wall of the Mendhar police station. The shelling led to panic in Mendhar and its bustling bazaar shut down almost immediately as people fled to safety.
In Arnia sector, people were taken by surprise when shells started landing in the morning. The shelling was so intense that within the first two hours, six persons were killed and a dozen others injured. The damage to civilian property was widespread and a large number of cattle too perished in the shelling.
Of the six dead, four belonged to a family — Maru Ram (65), Anju Devi (28), Rishav (7) and Abhi (5), residents of the Rangoor Camp. The children died while playing in the courtyard of their house. Rajinder Kaur (22), who was at work in the kitchen, died when a shell hit her house in Jarda. The sixth person to die was identified as Swaran Singh (32) of Govindgarh.
The two killed in the shelling in Tarkundi were identified as Sultana Begum and her daughter-in-law Maqbool Begum who were working in the fields. Kullas or the kutcha houses of the nomadic Gujjars were also razed when shells landed on Jora Farm along the international border in R S Pura sector. Jammu Deputy Commissioner Simrandeep Singh said the kullas were empty since the Gujjars had moved with their cattle to safer areas.
Heavy shelling was also reported in Majakote and the Balakote sectors. Three Army porters were injured in the shelling in Nowshera sector. They were identified as Rakesh Kumar and Som Raj, Palu Ram. Nowshera BJP MLA Ravinder Sharma, who visited the injured at the Government Medical College Hospital, asked the district administration to evacuate civilians from areas being targeted by Pakistani troops.
Defence Ministry spokesperson Lt Colonel Manish Mehta said Pakistani troops were using 120 mm mortars and continued to violate the ceasefire. He said the Indians were responding “appropriately”.