- People storm encounter site at Arwani in South Kashmir
- He was hit by a stray bullet; militant killed, two trapped in gunfight: Police
- Mobile, internet services snapped in parts of South Kashmir, train services suspended
A civilian was killed and scores others injured, many among them grievously, in the protests that erupted during the ongoing gunfight between security forces and militants in Hassanpora-Tawela village of Arwani in Bijbehara area of south Kashmir’s Anantnag district on Thursday.
The deceased has been identified as Arif Ahmad Shah son of Muhammad Khalil Shah resident of Gund Baba Sangam in Anantnag district. He was killed during protests near the encounter site.
Reports and witnesses said that hundreds of people started protesting since Wednesday evening and tried to break the cordon to help the trapped militants escape from the area.
“The protesters again engaged the forces in clashes since today morning and even tried to storm the house where militants were trapped,” reports said.
They said the security forces resorted to intense tear gas shelling, pellet firing and aerial firing.
“Forces also fired a few rounds directly towards the protesters as a result of which Arif received bullet injury in his chest and died on the spot,” witnesses said.
There were rumors about the killing of another civilian Bilal Ahmad, a tractor driver from Hassanpora, Tawela, village but it could not be confirmed as phone and internet services were snapped in Anantnag and Kulgam districts.
Police also confirmed the killing of one civilian.
“He (Arif) was hit by a stray bullet during the gunfight,” IGP Kashmir, SJM Gillani told Kashmir Post.
Reports further said at least 30 people sustained injuries, most of them with pellets, during the day long clashes near the encounter site amid raging gunfight.
“The injured were shifted to sub-district hospital Qaimoh (Kulgam) and SDH Bijbehara,” reports said, adding that many others were treated locally.
Two of the grievously injured were shifted to district hospital Anantnag where from they were referred to Srinagar. “One of the injured has sustained pellet injury in eyes while another in abdomen,” a doctor at district hospital Anantnag told Kashmir.
Another injured had pellet injuries in head and was being treated at SDH Qaimoh.
People from Kulgam villages – Qaimoh, Khudwani, Redwani – as well as Bijbehara, Sangam and other areas were seen marching towards the encounter site since morning to help the militants escape.
“Pro-freedom slogans were reverberating at the encounter site.”
The clashes between protesters and forces continued at the encounter site throughout the day and were on till last reports came in.
“The forces had a tough time dealing with the protesters amid gunfight with militants,” witnesses said.
They said that the house in which the militants were believed to be trapped has been razed to ground by forces by planting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
The said house belonged to one Mushtaq Ahmad Ganai whose son Jehangir Ahmad Ganai was killed by the forces in July this year in protests that erupted following the killing of Hizb commander Burhan Wani.
Even as reports came in that three militants have been killed but there was no official confirmation about it.
Certain reports even claimed that Lashkar commander Abu Dujana and district commander Kulgam, Majid Zargar, and other top militants were also holed up in the area, but police neither confirmed nor denied it.
However, later in the evening police issued a statement that the encounter was still on.
“As has been reported earlier an encounter is going on at Hassanpora Tabela, Arwani in jurisdiction of Police Station Bijbehara, Anantnag between militants and joint operation team of Police and Security Forces. At some distance from the encounter site, a stray bullet hit a person identified as Arif Ahmad Shah S/O Mohammad Khalil Shah R/O Gund Baba, Sangam. The said person later on succumbed to his injuries. Police has appealed to the people not to assemble or come close to the encounter sites as there is every chance that stray bullets may hit them and they make get injured,” police statement said.
Gun shots in the area were first heard Tuesday evening at around 5 p.m after army, Special Operation Group (SOG) and paramilitary forces cordoned off the area.
Reports said that there was no retaliation from militants. “At around 8: 30 p.m gun shots were again heard followed by loud bangs of explosions and it continued the entire night and till Thursday afternoon,” locals said.
“The intensity of the explosions was such that they could be heard in Bijbehara town and as far as in parts of Anantnag town too.”
Locals said that militants only fired intermittently even as forces continued to use mortar shells and resorted to heavy firing.
A police officer said that the gunfight intensified in the morning but stopped in the afternoon.
“It again intensified in the evening and is still on,” he said.
He said that though the house where militants were believed to be hiding has been blasted but no dead body has been found yet.
Asked if LeT commander Abu Dujana was among the holed up militants, the officer said: “We can’t confirm anything until the encounter gets over.”
Locals, however, claim that many militants have managed to escape with the help of protesters.
South Kashmir erupts:
As soon as the word about the killing of a civilian and rumors about militant killings spread, people hit the streets in Qaimoh, Khudwani, Kulgam as well as Vesu, Qazigund, Bijbehara and Khanabal in Islamabad town and held protests. The protesters also clashed with forces who lobbed tear shells.
Reports said entire South Kashmir remained shut and traffic was completely off. “No traffic plied on highway from Sangam onwards.”
As the body of Arif reached his native village in Sangam, people came out and while carrying his body held massive protest demonstrations. His funeral prayers were yet to be offered.
The phone and internet services were suspended in twin districts of Anantnag and Kulgam in the morning.
Only BSNL postpaid mobile service, landline and broadband internet service was operational.