Hundreds of school students were rescued by the Indian Army on Saturday as Pakistani troops continued to target people living along the Line of Control in Balakote sector of Poonch district with mortar shells and small arms fire without provocation.
Sources said that children were trapped in nearly a dozen schools after Pakistani troops suddenly initiated mortar shelling and small arms fire around 9.30 am. The shelling was so intense that their family members were unable to come out of their houses to reach the schools.
Nearly half a dozen houses and a car were damaged and a dozen cattle killed in the shelling, sources said. Around 50 villages along the 50-km border stretch from Balnoi near Mankote sector to Tarkundi were affected by the cross-border shelling that continued for more than three hours.
The Indian army retaliated befittingly and mortar shelling and small arms fire from across the border stopped at 1 pm, said Defence Ministry spokesperson Lt Colonel Devender Anand.
Residents said that nearly two dozen schools were affected. A teacher at Sandyot high school said they had shifted all 120 students to a safer place inside the premises and made them take cover behind a wall along with teachers and other staff. “Half a dozen mortar shells fell within 50 metres of the school building,” he said. Officials in the district administration received frantic calls to launch rescue operations.
Poonch Deputy Commissioner Rahul Yadav said that 5-6 schools in Balakote area were affected by shelling and small arms fire. The administration was going to launch rescue operations after the shelling stopped as it is dangerous to bring children out of schools during cross-border shelling, he said, adding that “they were more safe inside the schools”.
However, following calls over the children’s safety, Romeo Force pressed into service bulletproof vehicles and rescued the children and staff from schools during the shelling. Local police joined them, and the rescue operations continued till afternoon.
On August 29, nearly a dozen children and teachers were trapped at Government Middle School, Dabraj, in Mendhar sector after Pakistani troops initiated unprovoked mortar shelling and small arms fire targeting civilian population. Villages along the LoC in Poonch district are inhabited by Muslims.
Meanwhile, Northern Army Commander Lt General Ranbir Singh visited forward posts in Rajouri and Sunderbani sectors to review operational preparedness and the security situation.