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An Army jawan was killed in an encounter between militants and security forces, while four civilians also lost their lives in the crossfire in south Kashmir's Kulgam district after which the operation was suspended and three ultras who were holed up escaped, officials said today.
Two videos, purportedly showing the crowd helping in the escape of the militants and later cheering them as they were seen fleeing on motorcycles, surfaced on various social networking sites. The three militants managed to escape after civilian casualties increased.
Senior police officers, while briefing reporters, said there was specific intelligence about the presence of three local militants owing allegiance to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba terror group at a house in the Khudwani area, following which a security cordon was put in place at 10 pm last night.
The security forces suffered a setback at the start of the operation as a jawan identified as Sapper Sada Gunakara Rao, 24, was injured and rushed to the Army base hospital here. Rao, who hailed from Andhra Pradesh, later succumbed to his injuries.
Meanwhile, the gun-battle outside the house where the militants were holed up continued with bullets flying in every direction, the police said.
The house was on the banks of the Jhelum and locals started gathering on the other side of the river, officials said.
Repeated requests were made to the civilians to clear the area as they were within range of the gun shots being exchanged between security forces and militants. But, the warnings went unheeded and four civilians were killed in the crossfire between the militants and security forces, they said.
The four slain youths were identified as Sharjeel Ahmed Sheikh (25) of Khudwani, Bilal Ahmad Tantray (16) of Frisal, Faisal Ilahi (14) of Melhoora Shopian and Aijaz Ahmad Pala of Bijbehara. Police said Sheikh was involved in an Arms Act case.
"In the encounter, four civilians, who were injured in the crossfire, succumbed to their injuries," a police spokesman said.
Police officials said that after the civilians were killed in the crossfire, the operation had to be called off, to allow police and CRPF to disperse the mob that had gathered across the river.
It emerged that three militants, including one who was seriously injured, had escaped after the rubble from the house was cleared, officials said.
Police spokesman, however, said there were two militants holed up and later escaped. Police identified the injured militant as Azad Dada, who is wanted in a number of serious cases involving killing of civilians.
There were clashes between protesters and security forces, resulting in injuries to 24 people, they said.
While three people injured were sent home after treatment, 21 were still in the hospital and their condition was stable, officials said.
As the news of civilian deaths spread, protests broke out in several areas of north Kashmir, including Baramulla, Bandipora and Sopore towns, officials said.
Principal opposition party National Conference tweeted that this was a "costly encounter" because of killing of civilians and an Army personnel.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who called on Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in the morning in New Delhi, flew to Srinagar instead of Jammu to review the law and order situation in the Valley.
CPI(M) leader M Y Tarigami said, "Seeing dead bodies of young persons has now become a tragic routine and condemnations and denouncements too had become rituals.
"Our repeated cries for sanity and calm handling of the issues are also falling on deaf ears. Every week new tragedies are unfolding...This has to stop now."
Meanwhile, separatists under the banner of Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) called for a general strike tomorrow against the "civilian killings".
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)