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2 anti-India rebels, woman killed during Kashmir fighting

December 19, 2017

A Kashmiri villager walks across the house which was damaged during a gun-battle at Shopian 55 kilometres (34 miles) south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. Police say a woman was killed during anti-India protests in disputed Kashmir following a gun battle that killed two rebels. Fighting erupted after Indian troops cordoned off a village in the southern Shopian area overnight on a tip that militants were hiding in a house. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — A woman was killed during anti-India protests in disputed Kashmir on Tuesday following a gunbattle that killed two rebels, police and villagers said.

The fighting erupted after Indian troops cordoned off a village in the southern Shopian area overnight on a tip that militants were hiding in a house, police said.

The trapped militants tried to escape while firing their guns but soldiers retaliated, leading to a prolonged clash.

As the fighting raged, hundreds of residents, mostly young men, entered the streets in solidarity with the rebels, chanting pro-militant slogans and demanding the end of Indian rule over Kashmir.

The fighting stopped Tuesday after two militants were killed and a police official and a soldier were injured, police said. But clashes continued between rock-throwing protesters and troops who fired bullets, shotgun pellets and tear gas.

Police said the woman died in the crossfire. Villagers disputed that claim, saying troops fired at the protesters, killing the woman. At least 10 civilians were also injured.

Police said at least one militant escaped during the clashes.

Separatist leaders who challenge India’s sovereignty over Kashmir called for a strike Wednesday to protest recent civilian killings.

Over 200 militants, 75 police and soldiers and at least 40 civilians have died this year, the deadliest since 2010. The surge in violence comes after massive anti-India protests and clashes erupted in Kashmir when a popular rebel leader was killed over a year ago.

Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan each claim Kashmir, which is divided between them.

Rebel groups want Kashmir to be united, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

In recent years, Kashmiris, particularly young people, have openly supported anti-India rebels and sought to protect them by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations against the militants. Anti-India protests and clashes have persisted despite the Indian army chief warning recently that “tough action” would be taken against stone throwers during counterinsurgency operations.

Also Tuesday, rescue teams recovered three bodies of soldiers who were swept away last week by an avalanche near the heavily militarized Line of Control, the de facto border which divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Army officials said there was no trace of two other soldiers who also went missing when they slipped from a snow slope along the frontier last week.

Avalanches and landslides are common in the Himalayan region and have taken a heavy toll on the Indian and Pakistani armies. At least 20 Indian soldiers were killed in three avalanches earlier this year, and in 2012 a massive avalanche in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir killed 140 people, including 129 Pakistani soldiers.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir’s mostly Muslim population and most people support the rebels. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, which Pakistan denies.

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