Officials say four rebels and an Indian army commando were killed in fighting, sparking anti-India protests. Separately, a pro-independence leader in India-administered Kashmir was assassinated, with several groups blaming Indian authorities.

An unidentified Kashmiri Muslim kisses the body of rebel Bashrat Ahmad during his funeral at Shopian, south of Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir, Tuesday, Nov.ember 20, 2018.
An unidentified Kashmiri Muslim kisses the body of rebel Bashrat Ahmad during his funeral at Shopian, south of Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir, Tuesday, Nov.ember 20, 2018. (AP)

Assailants on Tuesday killed a prominent separatist leader in India-administered Kashmir, officials and residents said, as anti-India protests and clashes followed a gun battle that killed four rebels and an Indian army commando in the disputed region.

Fighting began early Tuesday in Shopian district after Indian police and soldiers cordoned off a village on a tip that rebels were hiding in a civilian house, said army spokesman Col Rajesh Kalia. He said the rebels ignored calls of surrender and fired at the soldiers and in the exchange the four were killed.

Police said one soldier from India's special forces unit was killed and two soldiers injured in the fighting.

Local residents said soldiers blasted the civilian house with explosives, a norm in the disputed region.

A Kashmiri Muslim villager cleans the debris of a house which was damaged in a gun battle at Shopian, south of Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir.
A Kashmiri Muslim villager cleans the debris of a house which was damaged in a gun battle at Shopian, south of Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir. (AP)

As news of the rebels' killing spread, hundreds of villagers seeking an end to Indian rule hit the streets to show solidarity with rebels, sparking clashes with Indian forces.

At least four women were wounded when troops fired bullets, shotgun pellets and tear gas to confront stone-throwing protesters.

Indian authorities blamed for assassination 

Gunmen sprayed gunfire toward Hafizullah Mir, a top political leader of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, a group that challenges India's sovereignty over Kashmir, at his home in the southern Achabal area. Mir died on the spot while his wife was wounded in the attack, police and residents said.

Rebel groups and separatist leaders called it an assassination and blamed Indian authorities, while police called the killing the handiwork of militants.

Mir was released from jail last month after two years imprisonment in India.

Tehreek-e-Hurriyat had said recently that Mir was receiving life threats over the telephone.

Popular rebellion 

Kashmir is divided between rivals India and Pakistan and both claim the territory in its entirety.

Most Kashmiris support rebel demands that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control. 

In recent years, mainly young Kashmiris have displayed open solidarity with the rebels and sought to protect them by engaging Indian troops in street clashes during military operations.

Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Pakistan denies. Islamabad says it only gives political, moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiris fighting Indian rule.

Nearly 100,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.

Read more: Why Indian forces are setting houses on fire in disputed Kashmir

Read more: Essay: Kashmir's everlasting insurgency

Source: TRTWorld and agencies