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Indian Kashmir Quake Toll Mounts as Rescuers Reach Remote Areas

In Indian Kashmir, the death toll from Saturday's 7.6 magnitude earthquake is mounting as rescue teams begin to reach outlying areas. Hundreds are known to have died, and tens of thousands are homeless.

Pleas for help ring in the air across border communities in Indian Kashmir as soldiers and rescue teams race to reach shattered, remote villages and helicopters airdrop food, supplies - and burial shrouds.

Residents say they are still without shelter and their children are hungry as remaining food stocks run out.

Officials and relief agencies say they are rushing to help, but the worst-hit areas are in outlying, mountainous regions, and many communication links are still down.

"We now have technical teams in place, engineers, water providers, people who are bringing in the most important equipment to get to people in need," said Ben Phillips, a Policy Coordinator in South Asia for international relief agency Oxfam. "But it is an extremely difficult environment, so it has been very hard to respond as quickly and effectively as we would have liked."

People are also still afraid. Thousands fled their homes in Indian Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar after rumors another earthquake would strike. Men, women, and children huddled by the road for hours, only returning indoors when police confirmed there was no official warning.

The quake's worst impact has been close to the line of control dividing the disputed Kashmir region between India and Pakistan. The two rivals, who are now involved in a peace process, have expressed solidarity with each other in the face of Saturday's disaster.

A hotline established recently to minimize the risk of an accidental nuclear exchange was ironically activated for the first time when the Indian foreign secretary called his Pakistani counterpart to offer condolences over Saturday's disaster.

An offer by New Delhi to assist Islamabad in the relief effort has prompted hopes the rivals will forge new ties as they confront the shared tragedy.

But many analysts say hostilities are too deeply embedded for the two countries to cooperate.

The head of the independent Institute of Conflict Management in New Delhi, Ajay Sahni, says Islamabad is unlikely to accept the Indian offer of help, because of the political implications in the hotly disputed region.

"It cannot be seen, or it cannot allow India to be seen as a major benefactor in these areas," he said. "It would generate goodwill for India and that is not something they would want in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir."

Regional political analysts agree the tragedy will generate goodwill between the two nations, but is unlikely to affect negotiating positions over Kashmir in the months to come.