Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir – At least nine people have been killed in violence in India-administered Kashmir, capping off one of this year’s deadliest weeks in the disputed region already suffering its worst bloodshed in a decade.
At least six rebels were killed in an early morning gun battle with security forces on Sunday in Kapran village of Shopian district in southern Kashmir. The fighting later sparked clashes in the volatile district between locals and police, during which a 15-year-old civilian was killed by security forces, according to residents.
A senior police official told Al Jazeera that an army officer, who was wounded in the encounter with rebels, later succumbed to his wounds.
In a separate incident, a foreign rebel was killed in fighting in Awantipora district, taking the total death toll to nine.
“The six killed rebels were wanted in various cases and belonged to a combined group of Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba. They included three rebel commanders,” the official said, adding that two more Indian soldiers suffered wounds.
Authorities said the operation was launched after receiving information on Saturday night about the presence of rebels in the house of a farmer in Kapran village.
“Multiple cordons were laid. The five rebels were locals and one was a foreigner,” the police official said.
Residents said the house was blasted during the gun battle, which was the second such operation launched by the security forces in the past three days.
As news about the killing of rebels spread, hundreds of civilians took to the streets, raising anti-India slogans and marching towards the house, resulting in clashes with the security forces.
Residents said a local teenager, Numan Ashraf, was shot dead by the forces in the clashes. Several others were wounded.
“Twenty people suffered pellet-gun injuries, four of them in their eyes. Four suffered bullet wounds. Even an 18-month-old girl was hit with pellets in her eye and face, but is in a stable condition,” a doctor in Shopian, who requested anonymity, told Al Jazeera.
As tension grew, authorities suspended internet services in the district to stop the protests from spreading further, officials said.
Meanwhile, separatist groups in Kashmir, who demand an independent state or merger with Pakistan, have called for a shutdown and protests on Monday against the latest killings.
Residents in south Kashmir often come out in the hundreds during an operation by the security forces, helping the rebels to escape.
Still, 16 rebels have been killed in three such operations since Tuesday. Though wary of “routine gunfights”, residents in south Kashmir continue to back the armed rebels.
“They might call them terrorists, but they are our children fighting injustice. That thousands of people come out and face bullets to save these fighters should act as an eye opener for India,” 45-year-old Gulshan Nazir told Al Jazeera.
“This injustice and oppression does not differentiate between a civilian and a rebel. They did not even spare a child, who was hit with pellets. Was she pelting stones as well,” she asked.
India-administered Kashmir has witnessed a spike in violence since the killing of a popular rebel commander in 2016.
Kashmir-based rights group Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) said 528 people have been killed this year in armed conflicts in the disputed Himalayan territory, including 145 civilians.
The report on Saturday added that at least 234 rebels and 142 Indian security personnel have also been killed so far this year.
JKCCS coordinator Khurram Parvez said it was the “bloodiest year since 2009” and blamed it on the “political weakness” of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s main ruling party.
“Federal elections are set to take place in India in a few months and the BJP government is selling the body bags of Kashmiris to gain votes,” he told Al Jazeera.
“They want to show their might to cover up for their failures in the government.”