India troops, militants engage in fatal gunfight in Kashmir amid escalated tensions
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India troops, militants engage in fatal gunfight in Kashmir amid escalated tensions

Indian military and police sources said among those killed in the gun battle on Sunday were three members of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) militant group – which had claimed responsibility for the car bomb attack against Indian forces in mid-February. A senior Indian police officer and an army soldier also died in the clashes in Turigam village of South Kashmir’s Kulgam district, they added. An anonymous Indian source said one of the suspected militants killed in the incident had been a foreign national. Over the past weeks, New Delhi’s security forces have intensified a search and arrest campaign in Kulgam district, the site of the bombing that left 44 Indian paramilitary soldiers dead. They detained some 160 pro-independence militants and their supporters this weekend. Most of those arrested are reportedly tied to India’s Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) Party. “Since JeI has a wider network across Kashmir and they are mobilizing anti-India protests, their arrest could help in curbing such protests ahead of elections,” according to a police officer. Pro-independence leaders in Kashmir have called for a strike in protest at the arrest campaign. Many shops, petrol stations, and businesses on the Indian-controlled side of Kashmir remain closed, with few people and vehicles on streets in sensitive areas, except for troop patrols. In some areas of the main city of Srinagar, the government limited the movement of people and vehicles. “The restrictions have been imposed as a precautionary measure to avoid any untoward incident,” the police said. Tensions have been running high between India and Pakistan since the February 14 bomb attack. New Delhi accuses Islamabad of being behind the assault, an allegation the Pakistani government denies. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who faces a general election by May, has said he has given carte blanche to the security forces in Kashmir to avenge the killings. In a televised speech on Sunday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said his country would not be intimidated by threats from India, warning Indians not to “cast a hostile eye” on Pakistan. Elsewhere, President of the Pakistani-administered Azad Kashmir, Masood Khan, warned that India was “stoking the flames of war.” Kashmir has been disputed between India and Pakistan since partition and independence from Britain in 1947. It is claimed in entirety by both sides, which have fought three wars over it. Many Kashmiris on the India-controlled side of the Himalayan region have been demanding that the region be given independence or be merged with Pakistan.

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