February 18, 2019: At least seven people, including two armed rebels and four Indian army soldiers, have been killed in an ongoing gun battle in India-administered Kashmir.
The gun battle on Monday in Pinglan village of Pulwama district comes days after 42 Indian security personnel were killed in a suicide blast - the worst such attack in 30 years of Kashmir conflict, which has raised fears of confrontation with archenemy Pakistan.
A senior Indian army official told Al Jazeera that the operation against the rebels was launched early on Monday following intelligence inputs about their presence in a house in Pinglan village.
“Among the slain soldiers is a top army officer,” he added.
Since the beginning of this year, there have been 14 gun battles in Kashmir. In February alone, there have been six such encounters in which 14 rebels have been killed.
The total number of rebels killed so far this year stands at 31, while 49 security forces died in the same period.
Officials said a local civilian named Mushtaq Ahmad, who was critically injured in Monday’s crossfire, also succumbed to his wounds.
Residents in Pinglan village said several houses were blown up in the ensuing gun battle.
“Several houses have been blasted. Many young people who were protesting have been arrested. There is heavy security and we are forced inside our homes,” said 50-year-old Abdul Hamid.
Officials said the gun battle is still on and two more rebels are believed to be trapped in Pinglan village.
|An Indian army soldier carries a rocket launcher near the site of the gun battle in Pinglan village [Younis Khaliq/Reuters]|
“The firing is still on. We fear a backlash from the army after these incidents,” Hamid said, remarks that reflect the unprecedented tension in Kashmir valley following Thursday’s attack.
On that day, 42 Indian paramilitary personnel were killed when a 20-year-old suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into one of the buses in the convoy carrying the men.
The deadly attack took place on a highway in Pulwama, which connects the disputed territory’s main city of Srinagar with its southern parts.
Pakistan-based rebel group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack, forcing India to pledge a “strong response” and undertake various measures, including withdrawing the most-favoured nation (MFN) status from its belligerent neighbour.
The bomber has been identified as a local rebel named Adil Dar, a resident of Pulwama, who had joined the JeM’s suicide squad nearly a year ago, according to police officials.
The deadliest attack so far in the decades-long armed rebellion in Kashmir has triggered a massive tension between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, facing a general election that must be held by May, is under domestic pressure for decisive action against Pakistan.
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the suicide attack in mainland India, there have been multiple “revenge attacks” by right-wing mobs on Kashmiris who have been “threatened to leave or face consequences”.
Dozens of Kashmiri students have fled their colleges across India and headed home.
Many people in the national capital, New Delhi, and other cities offered their homes to the Kashmiris vacating their places following threats to their lives.
On Monday, Aakar Patel, head of Amnesty International India, said in a statement that the central and state governments in India must ensure that “ordinary Kashmiri women and men do not face targeted attacks, harassment and arbitrary arrests following the killing of 42 security personnel”.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA