SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Three Kashmiri rebels and two Indian soldiers have been killed in a fierce gunbattle in the disputed Himalayan region, police said Sunday.
The fighting erupted Saturday after Indian troops raided southern Awneera village on a tip that at least seven rebels fighting New Delhi's rule over Kashmir were hiding there, said top police officer S.P. Vaid.
He said militants lobbed hand grenades and fired automatic rifles from two civilian homes and an apple orchard, killing two soldiers. At least three other soldiers were wounded.
Police said the firing stopped late in the night but resumed early Sunday, when three rebels were killed. Vaid said they were affiliated with the Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest Kashmiri insurgent group.
Residents said a civilian home was destroyed after troops blasted it with explosives.
Anti-India protests followed the fighting Saturday and Sunday, leading to clashes between rock-throwing residents and government forces who fired shotgun pellets and tear gas.
At least seven protesters were reported injured in the clashes.
Separately, two police officials and a soldier were injured after rebels sprayed gunfire at government forces laying a cordon in northeastern Hajin area early Sunday.
Also Sunday, a civilian who was wounded in a petrol bomb attack in the region's main city of Srinagar died in a hospital. Police said unknown perpetrators hurled the bomb at a police party on Saturday but missed the target, hitting the passer-by.
In recent years, Kashmiris, mainly youths, have displayed open solidarity with anti-India rebels and sought to protect them by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations against the militants. The 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.
Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety. Rebel groups demand that Kashmir be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir's mostly Muslim population and most people support the rebels' cause against Indian rule.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.