SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Three militants and an Indian army soldier were killed in a gunbattle in disputed Kashmir, officials said Tuesday.
The fighting erupted after government forces cordoned off and raided some homes in southern Aglar village following a tip that militants were hiding there, police said.
An army soldier was killed in the initial round of fighting, they said.
As the fighting raged, hundreds of residents demonstrated in solidarity with the rebels and clashed with government forces to try to help the militants escape.
At least two civilians were injured in the clashes between rock-throwing protesters and troops, who fired bullets and tear gas to quell the anti-India protest.
The gunfight is the latest in a string of deadly shootouts between Indian forces and rebels in restive Kashmir. At least 170 rebels and 60 government soldiers have died so far this year.
Senior police officer Muneer Ahmed Khan said one of the three slain rebels was a nephew of a top Pakistani militant leader, Masood Azhar. India blames Azhar's group, Jaish-e-Mohammad, for a string of attacks, including an audacious strike last month by three militants near the airport in the region's main city of Srinagar.
China, a key ally of Pakistan, has repeatedly blocked India's attempts to have Azhar put on a U.N. Security Council terror blacklist. India also accuses archrival Pakistan of harboring and training militants to launch attacks on its soil.
Pakistan has rejected the Indian accusations and says it only offers moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiris fighting against Indian rule.
Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety. Rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for the Indian-administered portion to become independent or merge with Pakistan. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in the region, and most people support the rebels' cause while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.