JAMMU, India – Tensions between India and Pakistan flared anew Sunday when India blamed its rival and Islamic militants for the massacre of 27 Hindu civilians in a swarming slum in India-controlled Kashmir.
"How long will we bear this?" Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani asked at the Qasimnagar slum on the outskirts of Jammu, winter capital of Jammu-Kashmir state and site of Saturday evening's massacre.
At the base of the hill from which the heavily armed attackers emerged, thousands of wailing slum residents protested furiously. Raising their fists, they shouted slogans against Pakistan and India's federal and state governments, mobbing politicians visiting the scene.
But there was no indication that India's military was planning any reprisals on the border with Pakistan, as it did after a May 14 strike by Islamic militants against a military base near Jammu that killed 34 people, mostly soldiers' wives and children.
In a statement Sunday, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry condemned the "killing of a number of civilians and injuries to many others" and said "the motivation behind the attack seems to be to enhance tension in the region."
Up to eight suspected Islamic militants walked into the slum on the outskirts of Jammu, threw three or four grenades and opened fire with automatic weapons, witnesses told police. They escaped after trading gunfire with security forces.
Two more victims died Sunday, raising the death toll to 27. Another 10 people remain critically injured, doctors said.
Those killed included 13 women and one child, Advani said.
"Again, the contention has been belied that violence in Jammu and Kashmir is the result of a freedom struggle," Advani said. "Women and children are not targeted in a freedom struggle."
The rebels have fought Indian security forces since 1989 in what the rebels and Pakistan call a "freedom struggle." The goal is to separate Muslim-majority Kashmir from Hindu-majority India and either create a new nation or merge it with Muslim Pakistan.
India's government said it would detail its response in Parliament on Monday.
"It is clear that all this is being carried out with the inspiration of Pakistan. It was a gruesome attack," Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha told the private Aaj Tak channel before the Cabinet meeting.
Pakistan denies giving material support to Islamic militants, saying it provides them only moral and diplomatic support.
Secretary of State Colin Powell is scheduled to visit the capitals of both countries this month. There have been incidents of terrorist violence in Kashmir before some previous visits by American officials.
"The people of this region deserve peace and development, not the suffering imposed upon them by terrorist thugs who are outside the pale of the civilized world," Powell said Sunday. "The perpetrators of this heinous act are proving once again that they do not have the interest of the Kashmiri people at heart, but rather seek to undermine efforts to ease tensions in the region."
More than 1 million Indian and Pakistani soldiers are massed along the India-Pakistan frontier since a deadly Dec. 13 attack on India's Parliament that New Delhi blamed on the rebels.
There were fears earlier this year that tension between the two nuclear-armed neighbors could explode into war. But after persistent diplomacy, India backed off and Pakistan promised to permanently end the infiltration of guerrillas across the border.
For weeks, India said the infiltrations were decreasing. But on Sunday, sharp words rang again.
"Pakistan arms them, helps them and sends them. We believe it is Lashkar-e-Tayyaba that carried out yesterday's attack," Junior Interior Minister I.D. Swamy said, referring to the most feared of more than a dozen Pakistan-based Islamic groups fighting in Kashmir.
"Elections are about to happen (in Jammu-Kashmir), and militants' groups are trying to create terror."
No group has claimed responsibility, following the trend in attacks that kill many civilians.
The territorial dispute over Kashmir is at the core of five decades of hostility between India and Pakistan, which have fought two wars over the territory. Both countries claim the territory in its entirety.
Violence has killed 60,000 people in the past decade in Jammu-Kashmir state, mostly in Kashmir Valley in the north. But in recent months Islamic groups have increasingly targeted Jammu in the south.