India has accused Pakistan of arming and training rebels, an allegation that Pakistan denies [Mukhtar Khan/AP]
Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – Four Indian soldiers and three fighters were killed in clashes as rebels stormed a paramilitary camp in the southern region of Indian-administered Kashmir, officials said.
Another paramilitary personnel died after suffering a heart attack during the encounter on Sunday.
Rajesh Yadav, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) spokesman, told Al Jazeera that fighters fired at a group of police in Lethpora village on Sunday morning at around 2am before entering the building.
“This was a [rebel] attack. The terrorists were four in number, two were killed along the fencing and two managed to enter the campus,” he said. “The search is ongoing for a fourth terrorist.”
The 160-acre camp in the volatile Pulwama district serves as a training centre and a CRPF base, Yadav said.
Shabaz Ahmad, a 28-year-old Lethpora resident, told Al Jazeera that he was woken up by the rattle of gunfire.
“We couldn’t understand what was going on until the morning, when we heard that ongoing fire was some distance away from our area in the camp,” he said. “The earth-shaking blasts and explosions reverberated until late afternoon. The noise of firing is still on, the camp is around two kilometres away from the residential area.”
Shesh Paul Vaid, director general of the Kashmir police, told Al Jazeera that armed rebels stormed the compound by mounting a wall that was under construction.
“Arms have been recovered from the terrorists. The initial inputs suggest that they are all foreign,” he said, adding the fighters’ Pakistani-based outfit, Jaish-e-Mohammad.
Hundreds of police, army and paramilitary troopers had rushed to the vast training camp.
Internet services were also suspended in the Pulwama district, which has seen several bouts of heavy violence since the killing of Burhan Wani, a rebel, in July last year.
Wani’s death sparked civil unrest in Kashmir which led to more than 100 people being killed in the region.
On December 27, a local commander of the Jaish-e-Mohammad group was killed in south Kashmir, triggering protests.
In October this year, three fighters and one Indian soldier were killed during an assault on a paramilitary base near Srinagar international airport.
In an earlier attack in August, suicide attackers stormed a heavily guarded police building in Pulwama in south Kashmir, killing four policemen and four soldiers.
Official figures show that in 2017, 369 casualties were reported which included 221 rebels, 93 armed forces and 55 civilians in separate incidents of violence.
Relations between India and Pakistan have also intensified, with both sides claiming their soldiers have been killed by cross-border firing.
On December 23, the Indian army claimed that four soldiers were killed by Pakistani fire in the Rajouri area of Indian-administered Kashmir.
On December 27, Pakistan’s foreign ministry also claimed that three of its soldiers were killed on the de-facto border in the Rakhchikri area of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.
Rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for the Indian-administered portion to become independent or merge with Pakistan.
Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.
India maintains roughly 500,000 soldiers in the territory.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep among Kashmir’s mostly Muslim population, and most support the rebels’ cause against Indian rule, despite a decades-long military crackdown against the armed rebellion.
India has accused Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, an allegation that Pakistan denies.
Armed rebel groups have largely been suppressed by Indian forces in recent years, and public opposition to Indian rule is now principally expressed through street protests.