Militants shot dead five soldiers in Indian-administered Kashmir on Monday, the army said, stoking tensions in the restive territory following a string of civilian murders.
Separately two suspected rebels were shot dead in different incidents, authorities said.
Colonel Devendar Anand told AFP that one officer and four soldiers “were killed during a search operation probably by infiltrators” in a mountain pass near the Line of Control (LoC) dividing the area from Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
“The operation is ongoing,” he added.
The shootings were the deadliest attack on military forces in the area since a ceasefire along the LoC announced in February.
Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since their independence in 1947, with both claiming the Himalayan region in full.
For over three decades, rebel groups have been fighting Indian soldiers and demanding independence for Kashmir or its merger with Pakistan.
Tens of thousands of civilians, soldiers and rebels have died in the fighting. India accuses Pakistan of supporting the militants.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government angered many Kashmiris in 2019 by scrapping the Muslim-majority region’s semi-autonomous status.
This was accompanied by a huge security operation and communications blackout with tens of thousands of extra soldiers joining the estimated half a million already on the ground.
Tensions have flared further in recent weeks with a spate of shootings of civilians in the area, with seven killed last week alone in attacks claimed by an anti-India militant group.
They included two teachers gunned down at a school on Thursday, sparking public outrage in Kashmir and outside. Politicians from all sides have condemned the killings.
Some 650 residents suspected to have links with banned religious and militant groups have been detained following the shootings, a police source told AFP.
“No stone will be left unturned to find the killers,” the senior police officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Authorities say at least 29 civilians — including workers from pro-India political parties — have been shot dead in Kashmir this year, one of them by security forces.
A relatively new militant group The Resistance Front claimed responsibility for the seven killings last week and accused those killed of working for “occupier mercenary forces and occupier stooges.”
The statements, issued only in English, were circulated in numerous WhatsApp groups and could not be independently verified by AFP.
One of the two suspected rebels killed on Monday was suspected of being involved, authorities said.
His family told reporters that soldiers picked him up on Sunday at then shot him while in their custody.
The two teachers, shot by gunmen at a government-run school, were from the Sikh and Hindu communities who are minorities in the Muslim-majority region.
The killings have frightened Kashmir’s minorities, reviving memories of the 1990s when hundreds of Hindus were killed by militants and thousands of families fled.
On Saturday, Human Rights Watch called for the perpetrators as well as Indian security forces accused of abuses including harassment, torture and extrajudicial killings to be held accountable.
“Kashmiris are caught in unending violence from attacks by militants and abuses by government authorities and security forces,” HRW’s South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly said in a statement.