Seven killed in new Pulwama firefight

* Indian army major among those killed in Pinglan village battle

Indian troops suffered new losses Monday in a fierce battle with Kashmiri fighters that left at least seven dead just days after a suicide bomber killed 41 paramilitaries in the troubled territory, officials said.

The confrontation piled more pressure on the Indian government, which has blamed Pakistan for Thursday’s suicide attack on a paramilitary convoy that sparked widespread calls for action against the country’s neighbour and nuclear arch-rival.

Shooting continued for hours after military and police sources reported that four soldiers, two fighters and a civilian were killed in Pulwama district, south of Srinagar, the main city in Indian-held Kashmir.

An army major was among the dead, according to the Indian army. Police said another soldier and a civilian were critically wounded. “The encounter is still on,” Colonel Rakesh Kalia, a military spokesman in Kashmir, said.

Hundreds of soldiers raided villages and fired warning shots at a house they suspected fighters were hiding in, unleashing the firefight in the village of Pinglan. Some of the fighters were believed to have escaped, police said, and government forces cordoned off other villages as they gave chase.

Government forces launched a massive hunt after an explosives-packed van rammed a convoy transporting 2,500 security forces in Thursday’s assault.

Local residents said that Indian troops 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. 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 the occupied valley. Kashmiris have been fighting for an independent Kashmir, or a merger with Pakistan, since 1989.

Published in Daily Times, February 19th  2019.