Indian and Pakistani troops clashed anew in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, leaving 12 people dead, including three Indian and one Pakistani soldiers, and wounding at least 36 on both sides, the Associated Press quoted officials as saying.
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, according to AP.
Pakistan 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, a statement by the Army said.
Indian and Pakistani troops regularly exchange fire across the mountainous border, but the shelling on Friday was particularly intense, according to Indian officials.
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.
This year, India has committed 2,729 ceasefire violations to date, resulting in 21 being killed and serious injuries to 206 innocent civilians. More than 40 civilians have been killed in firing between Indian and Pakistani troops this year, according to official data, with both sides suffering similar fatalities.
Pakistan's military described Friday's shelling as the latest unprovoked cease-fire violation by India and said Pakistani troops responded by targeting Indian posts.
In Srinagar, the capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir, the Indian army said three of its soldiers were killed and three others were wounded, the AP said. 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.
Indian officials were quoted by Reuters as saying the barrage of mortars and other weapons along several parts of the Line of Control - the de-facto border - began after Indian troops foiled an infiltration attempt from Pakistan in northern Kashmir.
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, according to Associated Press.
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.