Civilians trapped in intense Indian Kashmir clashes

Intense clashes between troops and Islamic militants holed up in the heart of Indian Kashmir’s summer capital of Srinagar continued into Saturday, leaving dozens of civilians trapped, police said.

The fighting, which started on Friday, has left two security-force personnel dead and 20 others injured—seven news cameramen and photographers, five security-force personnel and eight civilians.

“One of the cameramen is critical,” a doctor at the main hospital in Srinagar said.

“Intermittent firing continued throughout the night,” Border Security Force officer K Srinivasan said at the scene.

He said firing intensified early on Saturday around dawn when troops targeted the two buildings where they suspected the militants were hiding out.

The fighting is taking place near Srinagar’s Lal Chowk—Indian Kashmir’s main commercial hub—and the scene of many such clashes in a separatist conflict that has claimed more than 44 000 lives since 1989.

“Both sides were exchanging fire and grenades,” a police officer said.

The clashes broke out late on Friday afternoon when one or two armed militants attacked a paramilitary bunker with rifle fire and a grenade, sparking panic.

The militants later barricaded themselves inside a shopping complex and a hotel, and exchanged heavy fire with security forces.

“We are drilling holes in the buildings where militants are to try to enter and neutralise them,” said a security-forces spokesperson, Manhas, who uses only one name.

He said a television journalist and few civilians who were holed-up inside a hotel near the scene were evacuated by troops early on Saturday.

However, about three dozen civilians are trapped in two more buildings—a bank and a newspaper office, a police officer said.

“We are here since the fighting broke out,” Zahoor Ahmed, a news editor at Kashmir’s leading Urdu daily Aftab (Sun), said by telephone.

“In all, more than 20 people, including staff and outsiders, are present in the one-storey office,” he said.

Police said about 20 people are trapped in a bank.

The newspaper office and the bank are close to the buildings where the militants and security forces were exchanging fire.

Residents living around the area said gunfire continued unabated through the night.

The militant groups Al Mansurain and Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attack in separate calls to local news agency Current News Service.

Police are trying to flush out the militants without causing major damage to the cluster of commercial complexes and have sealed off the areas, a police officer said.—Sapa-AFP

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