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Published: Sunday February 23, 2014 MYT 6:46:00 PM
Updated: Sunday February 23, 2014 MYT 6:46:54 PM

Pakistan army pounds militant hideouts, 18 dead

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani fighter jets attacked suspected militant hideouts in the tribal areas on the Afghan border on Sunday, killing at least 18 insurgents, officials said, the third in a series of air strikes since last week.

The air strikes took place after peace negotiations with Taliban insurgents broke down last week and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif authorised the army on February 20 to launch raids against militants in the volatile region on the Afghan border.

"Fighter jets pounded training facilities of the terrorists in Tirah Valley early on Sunday," said one military official.

He said the destroyed facilities were used to train suicide bombers and make explosives.

There were no immediate reports of civilian casualties.

Despite the violence, both sides insist they are still open for negotiations. Most observers are sceptical about the peace process as well as talking to a group which has killed 40,000 people since the start of its operations in 2007.

The Taliban told the government last week there was no chance of peace in the country unless Pakistan changed its political and legal system and officially embraced Islamic law.

This year has been marked by a surge in violence across the country and Sharif is under intense pressure from hawks in the army to mount a tougher military response against the militants.

Speculation has been growing in past weeks that the army might be preparing for a big ground and air offensive against the insurgents holed up in the North Waziristan region, but so far raids have been limited to short aerial operations.

On Saturday, at least nine people were killed in helicopter gunship raids in the Hangu district. On February 20, at least 15 people died when fighter jets bombed the Mir Ali area of the tribal belt straddling the Afghan border.

As violence spread, at least eight people, mainly Shi'ite Muslims, were killed in an explosion in the north-western district of Kohat on Sunday, police said.

(Reporting by Jibran Ahmed, Saud Mehsud and Syed Raza Hassan, Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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