Two Kashmiri freedom fighters martyred, several Indian soldiers hit in capital Srinagar encounter
ISLAMABAD - Two Kashmiri freedom fighters, including a commander, were martyred by Indian government forces during a 12-hour gun battle in occupied Kashmir's capital on Tuesday, authorities said.
Such clashes are a common occurrence in the occupied territory but rare in Srinagar, and the siege marked the first shootout in the city's centre for two years.
Explosions and gunshots echoed through the densely populated neighbourhood, with streets largely empty as a result of a coronavirus lockdown that has kept most residents to their homes.
Paramilitary troops and police exchanged fire with the freedom fighters after cordoning off part of the area.
Five homes were reduced to rubble during the battle and 10 others were severely damaged, residents told *AFP*.
Junaid Ahmed Sehrai, a commander of the largest Kashmiri freedom fighters group Hizbul Mujahideen and the son of a top separatist leader, was martyred in the clash, police said in a statement.
Another Hizbul Mujahideen member was also martyred and four Indian police officers were wounded, the statement said.
Most mobile voice and internet services were cut across the city as the fighting kicked off and have yet to be restored.
Locals poured onto the streets as news of the killings spread, to hurl stones at Indian forces, who fired tear gas and shotgun pellets to disperse them. No injuries were reported.
The deaths came two weeks after Hizbul Mujahideen chief Riyaz Naikoo and a close aide were martyred by government forces in the southern Kashmir valley during a two-day gun battle.
Counterinsurgency operations in India-occupied Kashmir have been stepped up during the coronavirus lockdown, while freedom fighters have continued to fight government forces.
Unlike in the past, authorities now bury the deceased freedom fighters far away from their homes in unpopulated frontier areas to stop large funerals from being held.
Police said 73 freedom fighters had been martyred in Kashmir this year, many of them during the ongoing Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Kashmiri freedom fighters have fought for decades for the India-occupied region's independence. The fighting has left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians, since 1989.
India has more than 900,000 troops stationed in occupied Kashmir. -APP/AFP