Islamabad: Pakistani troops have surrounded key strongholds of Taliban militants a fortnight after the launch of a military operation in South Waziristan tribal region.

According to a military statement yesterday the operation has entered a crucial phase.

The troops have killed 33 more terrorists, taking the number of insurgents eliminated in 15 days to more than 300.

"The important phase of operations has commenced on all three axes," said the statement issued by the public relations wing of the armed forces.

In Peshawar, hundreds of people holding lighted candles marched through the streets, to condemn terrorism and show solidarity with the military campaign.

Led by provincial information minister Iftikhar Hussain, the rally went near the site of a devastating car bomb explosion in the city this week that left a trail of death and destruction.

The death toll in the explosion has soared to 117 while it may rise further as workers were still engaged in digging through the rubble of collapsed buildings to recover bodies.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani made a visit yesterday to Peshawar to sympathise with the people over the tragedy.

Compensation grant

Gilani announced a Rs50 million (Dh2.2 million) grant by the federal government for paying compensation for the dead and injured in one of the worst terrorist attacks in Peshawar.

Gilani said the government, which is in the midst of an anti-Taliban offensive, has no choice but to wipe out the militants.

"We are at war," Gilani told a press conference in the city of Peshawar. "Our civil leadership, our military leadership and political leadership ... we are on the same page that we have to fight the militancy. We do not have any other option because their intentions are to take over [the country]."

The military statement said on Jandola-Sararogha axis the Sararogha stronghold of militants had been surrounded from three sides.

"[A search] and clearance operation of Kanigurm has commenced where forces are facing stiff resistance and receiving fire from different parts of the town including mortar fire," it said.

"Fighting in streets is going on and house-to-house [searches are] in progress. Terrorists have converted the houses into strong bunkers and are holding towers in strength and with snipers."

On the Shakai-Kaniguram axis, Karama has been encircled and clearance of Kaniguram has commenced. On the Razmak-Makeen axis the security forces have reached the outskirts of Makeen.