Army helicopter gunships strafed and bombed suspected militant hide-outs in a restive tribal region in northwestern Pakistan early yesterday, killing three fighters and four civilians, including women and children.
The air raids were carried out after militants launched attacks and engaged in intense gunbattles with security forces late on Saturday in North Waziristan, a tribal region on the border with Afghanistan, the army's top spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said.
Two militant compounds were targeted near the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan, Arshad said.
Four civilians -- two women and two children -- died when their home was bombed in Hurmaz, a village near Mir Ali, an intelligence official in Miran Shah, North Waziristan's main town, said on condition of anonymity because he did not have authority to comment.
Arshad, speaking on Geo TV, said he had no confirmation of any civilian casualties. He said the army did not carry out indiscriminate bombing, and struck militant positions in a "focussed and targeted operation."
Violence has increased in North Waziristan with militants launching almost daily attacks on security forces after they pulled out of a peace deal with the government last month. They accused authorities of redeploying troops to security posts that had been vacated under terms of the agreement.
A militant leader also announced his intention to withdraw from a similar peace deal in South Waziristan, another tribal area adjacent to North Waziristan, after accusing authorities of launching military raids there.
"The government violated the agreement, carried out airstrikes and moved troops into our area," the Dawn newspaper quoted Zulfiqar Mehsud, a purported spokesman for the militant leader Baitullah Mehsud, as saying.
Pakistan -- a close US ally in the war against terrorism -- has deployed some 90,000 troops to its border regions along Afghanistan to track down militants.
Pakistan has faced increased US pressure to do more to stop militants from crossing into Afghanistan, amid concern that al-Qaeda may be regrouping in Pakistan's tribal regions.