Indian troops and separatist militants clashed in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Thursday and five people were killed including a civilian, officials said, the latest casualties in a new phase of violence in the 30-year insurgency.
Since February 14 suicide bomb attack by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) militant group killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police, tensions in Muslim-majority Kashmir has been high.
As a response, Prime Minister Narendra Modi signalled to the troops a "free hand" to respond to the attack, and near-daily searches in villages in Kashmir since then have often triggered violent confrontations, with civilians caught in crossfire to the alarm of rights groups.
Moreover, the tough response to the bomb attack by Modi, which included an air strike against what India said was a militant camp in Pakistan, is believed to have given his party a boost in a general election that began on April 11th and ends on May 19th.
Thus far according to the police, three militants belonging to JeM, including a Pakistani commander, and an Indian soldier were killed in the gun battle in Dalipora, a village in south Kashmir, which began in the early hours.
Meanwhile, the villagers there said a civilian, who they identified as Rayees Ahmad Dar, 32, was also killed after Indian soldiers had sent him to search a house where militants were believed to be hiding.
It is common that the villagers in the area complain before and now about the army using civilians as human shields in searches.
According to the police spokesman, Dar was killed in indiscriminate firing by the militants, and denied he had been sent on a search.
In a range rampage, after the clash, villagers threw rocks at security forces, who responded with teargas, while lawyers in the state's high court went on strike in a protest over Dar's death.
In addition, on Thursday the police said seven people were arrested and a curfew imposed on a town in the region after a Muslim man transporting horses was shot dead, allegedly by a Hindu group wanting to protect the rights of cows, an animal considered sacred in their religion.
Witness Yasir Hussain told Reuters he was one of three men confronted overnight by the group on the outskirts of Bhaderwah.
"They alleged that we are cow smugglers, but I directed my torch towards the horses and told them that these are the horses," he said. "They then fired at us and we fled."