Hundreds of schools closed indefinitely in Kashmir as India, Pakistan ramp up cross-border shelling

Kashmiri Muslim children hold pages of burnt books from a window as they play inside a torched school building on the outskirts of Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir on Oct 31, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

SRINAGAR, India (AFP) - Hundreds of schools were ordered to close indefinitely in Kashmir on Wednesday (Nov 2) after a flare-up in violence between Indian and Pakistani security forces in the disputed region left 14 civilians dead.

Authorities on the Indian-administered side said nearly 300 schools had been ordered to shut from Wednesday morning following the death of eight civilians in mortar shelling along the highly militarised border in the Jammu region of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

"Nearly 300 schools, both private and government-run, have been asked to close down in Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts," Mr Pawan Kotwal, a top official in the civilian adminstration in Jammu, said.

He said the border remained relatively calm overnight with only a few incidents of cross-border firing reported in some areas.

Eight civilians, including two children, were killed on Tuesday (Nov 1) when mortar shells hit two locations in Samba and Rajouri sectors.

On Monday (Oct 31), Pakistani authorities said six civilians, including a 18-month-old girl, had been killed on its side of the border in firing by Indian security forces operating in Jammu.

Islamabad summoned a senior Indian diplomat to protest over the killings.

India and Pakistan's armies have regularly exchanged fire across the Line of Control - the de facto border in Kashmir - as well as along the undisputed part of their border since a militant attack on an Indian army base on September 18 left 19 soldiers dead.

Both countries accuse each other of violating the 2003 ceasefire and engaging in "unprovoked firing".

Eight Indian soldiers have also died in the border skirmishes.

Relations between the two countries have plummeted in recent months since the attack on the army base, the deadliest in more than a decade.

India has blamed Pakistan-based militants for the attack and its prime minister, Mr Narendra Modi, recently characterised the regime in Islamabad as the "mothership of terrorism".

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British rule in 1947. Both claim the territory in full.

Several rebel groups have fought for decades an estimated 500,000 Indian soldiers deployed in the Himalayan territory, demanding independence for the region or its merger with Pakistan.

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