Seven civilians and three armed rebels have been killed during a gun battle in Pulwama in Indian-administered Kashmir, officials said.
A senior police official told Al Jazeera that a soldier also succumbed to his injuries after the clashes in Sirnoo village, taking the total death toll to 11.
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Officials said the gunfight started early morning on Saturday after Indian forces launched a search operation for rebels in the area.
They said the slain rebels belonged to the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen rebel group.
Residents told Al Jazeera that villagers marched towards the site of the gunfight and Indian forces “fired live ammunition at them”.
“There is mayhem. The soldiers fired bullets at unarmed civilians without a second thought,” said Ruby Hamid, a resident of Pulwama.
Deputy Commissioner of Pulwama, Ghulam Muhammad Dar, said the “situation was under control”.
Police said crowds of civilians came “came dangerously close” to the fighting, resulting in casualties.
“Unfortunately seven persons succumbed to their injuries,” officials said in a statement.
This year has been the deadliest in the disputed territory in nine years with more than 500 casualties, including 146 civilians.
The dead from Saturday’s violence included 14-year-old Aqib Ahmad, who lived in the village of Prichoo.
“He left with the others towards the site of the gunfight in the morning,” one of his family members recalled
“At 11:00 am, we heard he had been shot. At the hospital, we found he was targeted in the head. This was a massacre of people. Why didn’t they shoot them in the leg?”
Dr Abdul Rasheed Para of the district hospital in Pulwama described Saturday’s clashes as “disastrous”.
“We have received six dead bodies since the morning. All of them had firearm injuries in the head, abdomen, and neck,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Most of them were in the age group between 18 and 23 years. They were all young.
“Twenty-five people were treated with different injuries, some of them had bullet injuries and some were hit with pellets.”
Hundreds of Kashmiri youths, protesting the killings and shouting anti-India slogans, clashed with Indian forces in the south of the region.
Shops and businesses pulled down their shutters and Indian troops rushed to the streets to prevent further demonstrations.
Mobile internet services were also suspended in the divided Himalayan region as authorities feared unrest would spread.
The disputed territory has witnessed an intermittent cycle of violence over the last few months as Indian forces intensified their operations against rebels, killing a record 230 rebels in less than a year.
Two days ago, the rebels shot dead four policemen when they stormed a security post in Kashmir’s Shopian district.
The region is currently under the direct rule of the federal government after India dissolved the state assembly. Fresh elections are expected to be held in the coming months.
Separatist leaders, who demand an independent state or merger with Pakistan, have called for a three-day shutdown in the region to protest the latest killings.
The leaders have also asked the residents to march towards the largest army cantonment in the main city of Srinagar.
“The Indian forces are armed with laws that protect them. They are trigger happy forces. They fear no prosecution, no accountability. They are here to kill people, especially youth,” Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, a senior separatist leader, told Al Jazeera.
“The youth have been shot in the head, in the neck, the abdomen. It was shoot-to-kill, not to disperse them,”
“No one is talking about it. The world is silent. This is a complete colonial approach to suppress people.”
Mehbooba Mufti, former Chief Minister of the region, who served in coalition with India’s ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said that “no country can win a war by killing its own people”.
“How long are we going to shoulder the coffins of our youngsters? So many civilians killed today post encounter in Pulwama.I strongly condemn these killings, and once again appeal for efforts, to stop this bloodbath,” she tweeted.