Pakistani troops targeted border villages in Jammu and Kashmir's Poonch district with mortar bombs today, killing five members of a family including three minor brothers and injuring five Army personnel and two civilians, officials said.
The "unprovoked and indiscriminate" shelling of civilian areas almost three-four kilometres from the Line of Control (LoC) by the Pakistani troops, in violation of a ceasefire agreement, lasted nearly four hours this morning, they said.
Five Army personnel, including a junior commissioned officer, suffered injuries and were rushed to a military hospital in Udhampur. Two sisters were critically injured in the shelling and were airlifted to Jammu for treatment, they said.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti expressed anguish over the loss of lives and stressed the need for peace if we want to save the people of the state.
Army PRO Lt. Col. Devender Anand said the mortar shelling from across the LoC was "unprovoked and indiscriminate" and lasted from 0745 hours to 1130 hours. Indian troops guarding the border retaliated strongly and effectively, he added.
Director General of Police S P Vaid in a tweet said, "Due to shelling from across (LoC) in Balakote sector of Poonch, 5 civilians of a family died & 2 are injured who are being shifted to hospital."
The civilian casualties occurred in forward village of Devta Sargloon, approximately 200 kilometres from here, when a shell hit the mud house of Choudhary Mohammad Ramzan (35), a police official said.
The deceased were Ramzan, his wife Malika Bi (32), their sons - Abdul Rehman (14), Mohammad Rizwan (12) and Razaq Ramzan (seven).
Ramzans two daughters -- Nasreen Kouser (11) and Mahreen Kouser (five) -- were critically injured in the incident and were airlifted to Jammu for specialised treatment, the police official said.
An army official, on condition of anonymity, said five soldiers including a junior commissioned officer were also injured in the Pakistani shelling.
Anguished to hear of 5 people losing their lives in the crossfire along the LoC in the Balakote sector of Poonch. My deepest condolences to their family, the chief minister said in a tweet.
Peace is the only way forward. Initiatives were started by (former Prime Minister A B) Vajpayee Ji with his Lahore bus journey & were later carried on in the same spirit by PM @narendramodi (Prime Minister Narendra Modi). Sadly they were sabotaged at Pathankot. We need to get on the right track if we want to save the people of J&K, she said in another tweet, referring to the scene of the 2016 terror attack on an Air Force Station in Punjab.
The Army PRO said today's ceasefire violation by Pakistan was a serious issue of concern as civilian localities much deep inside Indian territory -- almost three-four kilometres from the LoC -- were targeted despite the fact that there was no Army deployment or any installation or even no equipment installed.
Lt. Col. Anand said Pakistani troops used small arms, 81 mm and 120mm mortar shells.
Pakistan continues in its cowardly design of targeting innocent civilians, their homes and livestock in villages close to the LoC. The deliberate provocation has resulted in loss of five precious and innocent civilian lives, the Army PRO said.
He said the crew of an Army helicopter quickly swung into action and landed at nearby Rajouri at 1200 hours and were airborne with the injured girls within the next two minutes.
They landed at Jammu at 1239 hours whereon the casualties were shifted to civil hospital. They were escorted by their uncle Inzaman, he said.
Inspector General of Police of Jammu, S D S Jamwal, said the civil administration was "alive to the situation" and appropriate precautionary actions would be taken to ensure safety of civilians.
The firing has stopped and the local administration has reached the area. We have rushed bullet proof vehicles to the affected villages, he told reporters on the sidelines of a function here.
Meanwhile, a team headed by Poonch Deputy Commissioner Tariq Ahmad Zargar visited the spot and other vulnerable areas in Balakote sector to provide relief and to ascertain the situation in the aftermath of the shelling.
The team visited the house which was completely gutted due to shelling and handed over Rs 1 lakh as immediate financial relief in favour of the girls who survived with critical injuries in the shelling, an official spokesman said.
The deputy commissioner said financial assistance of Rs 5 lakh would be processed soon. He appealed to the people of vulnerable areas to shift their families to safer places identified by the district administration.
The deputy commissioner said the process of construction of 40 community bunkers for the safety of the border villagers are at finishing stage, and the process of constructing individual household bunkers in targeted areas would be started very soon.