JAMMU AND KASHMIR, India - Three terrorists and a soldier were killed in an encounter with security forces in India's northern state of Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday.
The Jammu and Kashmir police said that they had launched a cordon-and-search operation in south Kashmir, that led to the encounter.
According to the Indian Army, security forces launched the planned operation in south Kashmir's Pulwama district, based on specific intelligence input.
The Army reportedly had information about the presence of terrorists in Pulwama district's Sirnoo village.
Officials said that three terrorists and an Indian soldier were killed in the encounter after the terrorists were found hiding in an orchard in the village.
A police official told reporters, "The terrorists opened fire on security forces while they were carrying out search operations. The security forces retaliated, leading to an encounter."
Army officials confirmed that three terrorists, including an army deserter, and a soldier were killed in the operation.
So far, the Indian Army has not released the names or the affiliation of the slain terrorists and said that the Army was assisted in the operation by the police and the CRPF.
However, even as a fierce gun battle was ongoing in the Kashmiri village, protesters reportedly tried to disrupt security forces, in a bid to provide safe passage to trapped militants.
According to officials, the clashes between locals and security forces led to several civilians being injured and seven of them being killed.
The civilians from the village were confirmed to have been killed in Army firing.
The victims were identified as Shahbaz Ali of Monghama village, Suhail Ahmad of Bellow, Liyaqat Ahmad of Parigam, Amir Ahmad Palla of Ashminder and Abid Hussain Lone of Kareemabad.
The Army is trying to ascertain the identity of the seventh victim.
Officials also revealed that several other civilians sustained injuries in the firing, that led to rising tensions in the region.
Sensing the possibility of further clashes in the tense area, authorities suspended internet services in Pulwama.
Further, train services between Srinagar and Banihal were suspended too.
The clashes drew sharp political reactions and were condemned by the former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.
In a statement on Twitter, Abdullah called the incident "another blood soaked weekend in Kashmir."
He wrote, "6 protestors killed, 1 solider killed in the line of duty. Together with the 3 militants from this mornings encounter thats 10 dead. Reports of many injured at the encounter site. What a horrible day!"
Abdullah also tweeted, "6 civilians killed and numerous more injured, many critically. Any way you look at it this was a badly executed encounter. Protests around encounter sites are now the norm not the exception. Why are we unable to learn how to handle them better?"
Meanwhile, another former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti blamed the administration for the violence.
Mufti wrote on Twitter, "No probe enough to bring back the dead innocent civilians. South Kashmir has been reeling under fear for the last 6 months. Is this what was expected from Gov rule? The admin has failed in securing civilian lives. Deepest condolences to the bereaved."
So far this year, at least 44 policemen have been killed in a series of militant attacks in different parts of Jammu and Kashmir.
The death toll of cops in the region marks the highest number of casualties in the state since 2006.
Data released by the Ministry of Home Affairs revealed that as many as 87 security personnel, including 44 state police personnel, 32 army jawans, seven CRPF men and one CISF, BSF and SSB jawan have been killed in the state this year.
Further, separate encounters with security personnel have also led to the death of 230 militants.