By Zahid Rafiq
SRINAGAR, Jammu Kashmir, India (AA): Five Indian security personnel have been killed so far in an ongoing firefight with pro-independence militants who since yesterday have been holed up in a building in Srinagar’s Pampore district.
On Sunday, two Indian army commandos were killed, bringing the total death toll among Indian security forces to five.
One day earlier, a civilian, too, was killed in the gunfight, which first began on Saturday.
“There are also 13 wounded personnel on our side,” Bavish Choudary, a spokesman for India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), told Anadolu Agency.
According to Choudary, joint CRPF/police/army forces had entered the multi-story building in which the militants are holed up and are now in the process of clearing it room by room.
“Our forces have been inside [the building] since [Sunday] afternoon, but have not cleared it yet,” he said.
“There is intermittent fire from the militant’s side,” he added.
According to witnesses, Indian security personnel sustained heavy casualties while trying to enter the building.
“The [first] army commando was killed while trying to enter the building, while several others were wounded,” Muzamil Ahmad, a local photographer covering the ongoing standoff, told Anadolu Agency.
The gun-battle first erupted on Saturday afternoon after militants attacked a CRPF bus, killing two CRPF personnel and injuring ten others.
After the attack, the militants had sought shelter in a government office building from which dozens of employees were evacuated before the gunfight began.
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.
Srinagar is the summer capital of the Indian-held portion of Kashmir (Jammu Kashmir).
Pakistan and India have fought three wars — in 1948, 1965 and 1971 — since the partition of the latter in 1947. Two of the conflicts were fought over Kashmir.
Since 1989, Kashmiri resistance groups in Indian-held Jammu Kashmir have fought Indian rule to demand independence or unification with neighboring Pakistan.
Tens of thousands of Kashmiris have reportedly been killed in the violence, most of them by Indian forces.
India currently maintains an estimated half-million troops in Jammu Kashmir.
[Photo: Smoke rises from the government building where suspected militants are believed to be trapped in Pampore some 15 kilometers from Srinagar the summer capital of Indian controlled Kashmir on February 21, 2016. Photographer: Faisal Khan/AA]