Four Indian soldiers and three Kashmiris were killed on Monday morning during a fierce gunbattle in occupied Kashmir’s Pulwama district, where a suicide bomber killed at least 41 Indian paramilitaries last week.
Indian forces have launched a massive hunt for Kashmiri fighters in parts of occupied Kashmir since Thursday, when an explosives-packed van rammed into a convoy transporting 2,500 security forces in the deadliest attack in Kashmir in 30 years.
Fighting erupted early on Monday after government forces surrounded a village in Pulwama on a tip that Kashmiri fighters were hiding there, security officials said. As troops began conducting searches they came under heavy gunfire, leading to fatalities, police claimed.
Local residents said that Indian troops had destroyed a civilian's house using explosives during the fighting, and Indian police claimed to have recovered the bodies of two Kashmiri fighters from the debris. A civilian was also killed in the crossfire, police added.
Four soldiers were killed in a shootout during the search operation, while another was injured and reported to be in critical condition, according to an Indian police official speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity.
The fighting triggered anti-India protests and clashes in the village, with local residents ─ mainly youths ─ trying to march to the site of the gunbattle in solidarity with the Kashmiri fighters. Government forces fired tear gas at stone-throwing protesters. No one was immediately reported injured in the clashes.
India has an estimated 500,000 soldiers in Kashmir, which has been divided between India and Pakistan and riven by unrest since the end of British rule in 1947.
Kashmiris have been fighting for an independent Kashmir, or a merger with Pakistan, since 1989.
New Delhi accuses Pakistan of fuelling the uprising that has left tens of thousands of civilians dead. Islamabad denies the charge, saying it only provides diplomatic support to Kashmiris' right to self-determination.