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Pakistan Says It Will Release Captured Indian Pilot To Ease Tensions


People watch a TV broadcast of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan addressing the Parliament on February 28.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan says Islamabad will release an Indian pilot captured by Pakistani forces on February 27 after his warplane was shot down in the disputed region of Kashmir.

Khan said in a speech to Pakistan's parliament on February 28 that "the captured Indian pilot" will be released on March 1 "a gesture of peace."

In New Delhi, however, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was defiant in his first public remarks since both Pakistan and India claimed they shot down each other's fighter planes near Kashmir's Line of Control -- the de facto border that divides the Himalayan region between Indian and Pakistani rule.

Modi said citizens of India should "stand as a wall, as a rock" and unite "as the enemy seeks to destabilize India."

"The entire country is one today and standing with our soldiers," Modi said. "The world is looking at our collective will and we have faith in our forces' capacity. India will live as one. India will work as one. India will grow as one. India will fight as one. India will win as one."

The remarks from the Pakistani and Indian leaders came shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump said that Washington was mediating to help defuse the crisis, and that he expected "reasonably decent news."

The United Nations and world powers -- including the United States, China, Russia, and the European Union -- have expressed concerns that escalating tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi could spiral out of control.

In another sign of easing tensions, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said India had handed over intelligence it has about a deadly February 14 attack on Indian security forces in Kashmir that sparked the crisis.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal said Pakistan will examine the Indian "dossier" on the bombing that Islamabad received through diplomatic channels on February 28.

Faisal did not provide details about the information New Delhi shared.

Pakistan's military said its air force shot down two India Air Force jets in its airspace and captured a pilot on the ground in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

India confirmed the loss of one of its MiG-21s and the capture of its pilot. It said it also foiled an attack by Pakistan warplanes over Kashmir and shot down one Pakistani plane. Islamabad denies any of its aircraft were shot down.

The aerial confrontation came a after India on February 26 struck what it said was a militant camp in northeastern Pakistan in retaliation for a suicide bombing that killed at least 41 Indian troops in the India-controlled part of Kashmir

A Pakistan-based group, the Jaish-e Muhammad (JeM), claimed responsibility for the February 14 attack -- the deadliest to take place during a three-decade insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir.

India has accused Pakistan of having a "direct hand" in the attack and providing sanctuary to the militants. Islamabad denies involvement.

India's air strikes in Pakistani territory on February 26 were the first since the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on February 27 that the escalation of violence “has the potential to lead to serious and dangerous consequences for the two countries and the wider region."

China, a close ally of Pakistan, expressed hope that Islamabad and New Delhi will "earnestly fulfill their commitments to prevent the expansion of the situation."

Russia also urged calm and offered to act as a mediator.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters

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