At least 7 civilians were killed Sunday in firing along the de facto India-Pakistan border in Kashmir, officials said, as both countries accused each other of trying to destabilize the disputed region.
Pakistan accused Indian troops of "heavily" shelling near the Line of Control (LoC), killing seven people including a Pakistani soldier while eight other civilians and two soldiers were wounded.
LoC, a de facto border, divides disputed Kashmir valley between Pakistan and India.
The fresh casualties, including two laborers, were reported from remote Jura, Shahkot and Nousehri sector of Muzaffarabad and Neelum districts of Pakistan administered Kashmir known as Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).
"Indian forces in occupied Kashmir have gone berserk. In overnight ruthless shelling, they have martyred six civilians and wounded another eight in Muzaffarabad and Neelum districts," Raja Farooq Haider, Prime Minister of AJK tweeted.
According to the local administration, the Indian forces targeted the civilian population and destroyed several houses including a hut of a laborer.
"Two laborers who were working on road construction belonging to Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province were also martyred in the shelling as Indian troops hit their hut through mortar," Badar Munir, deputy commissioner of Muzaffarabad, told Anadolu Agency on the phone.
Badar added that all injured have been shifted to a local hospital in Muzaffarabad, capital of Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
The Pakistan army in a statement claimed that at least nine Indian soldiers were killed and several others injured in retaliation.
"#IndianArmy unprovoked CFVs (cease-fire violations) in Neelum valley Sectors deliberately targeting civilians. Effectively responded. 9 Indian soldiers killed several injured. 2 Indian bunkers destroyed," Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, Director General Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), media wing of Pakistan army claimed in his tweet.
During exchange of fire, one soldier has also been martyred and two others were wounded, he added.
"Indian Army struggling to pick dead bodies and evacuate injured soldiers. Indian Army raising white flag. This they should think before initiating unprovoked CFVs and respect military norms by avoiding to target innocent civilians," Pakistan army spokesman added.
The Pakistan military spokesman rejected the Indian claim to have targeted the alleged militant camps near the LoC and said "targeting innocent civilians by Indian Army is an attempt to justify their false claims of targeting alleged camps.''
"UNMOGIP [United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan] as well as domestic & foreign media have open access to AJK, a liberty not available in IOJ&K [Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir]," Ghafoor said.
"Indian Army shall always get befitting response to CFVs. Pakistan Army shall protect innocent civilians along LoC & inflict unbearable cost to Indian Army. Indian lies to justify their false claims & preparations for a false flag operation will continue to be exposed with truth," he added.
The Indian Army on Sunday used artillery guns to target ''terrorist camps'' in Pakistan occupied Kashmir which have been actively trying to push ''terrorists'' into Indian territory, according to some Indian media.
According to a statement by the Indian Army, "Indian forces cause heavy damages and casualty to Pakistan after two Indian soldiers and one civilian were killed in cease-fire violation by Pakistan Army in Tangdhar sector (Jammu and Kashmir) today."
''Indian Army retains the right to respond at a time and place of its choosing in case Pak Army continues to assist terrorist activities across Indian borders,'' the army said.
Two soldiers and a civilian were killed and three others injured in "unprovoked fire by Pakistan" in the mountainous Kupwara district, a spokesman for the army told AFP earlier Sunday.
Several homes were damaged in the attack and three civilians were being treated in a hospital, he added.
Meanwhile, Pakistan foreign ministry summoned Indian deputy envoy and lodged strong protest over the last night unprovoked cease-fire violations by the Indian forces along the LoC.
Foreign ministry spokesman rejected the Indian media reports about "launchpads" being targeted by India along the LoC and termed the act as the Indian threat to regional peace and security. The spokesman has called upon the P5 countries to ask India to provide information about the so-called alleged "launchpads" and stated its willingness to arrange a visit of the P5 diplomats to those locations to expose Indian falsehood.
P5 refers to the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
Already fraught relations between the two South Asian nuclear rivals have further flared up after India scrapped the special provisions of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The state has been under a near-complete lockdown since Aug. 5.
Several rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have repeatedly called on India to lift restrictions and release political detainees.
Indian authorities, however, claim that daytime restrictions have been lifted in 93% of the region, a claim Anadolu Agency could not verify independently.
From 1954 until Aug. 5, 2019, Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed special status under the Indian Constitution, which allowed it to enact its own laws.
The provisions also protected the region's citizenship law, which barred outsiders from settling in and owning land in the territory.
India and Pakistan both hold Kashmir in parts and claim it in full. China also controls part of the contested region, but it is India and Pakistan who have fought two wars over Kashmir.