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Rebels storm Indian army base in Kashmir; 7 soldiers killed

Associated Press Associated Press 29/11/2016 By AIJAZ HUSSAIN, Associated Press
Indian army soldiers patrol a road near the site of a gunbattle in Nagrota, about 15 kilometers from Jammu, India, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. Rebels fighting against Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir stormed a crucial Indian military base Tuesday, triggering a fierce gunbattle, officials said. (AP Photo/Channi Anand) © The Associated Press Indian army soldiers patrol a road near the site of a gunbattle in Nagrota, about 15 kilometers from Jammu, India, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. Rebels fighting against Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir stormed a crucial Indian military base Tuesday, triggering a fierce gunbattle, officials said. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)

SRINAGAR, India — Rebels fighting against Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir stormed a crucial Indian military base Tuesday, triggering a fierce gunbattle that left at least seven army soldiers and three militants dead, officials said.

At the same time in another part of Kashmir, Indian border forces came across three suspected militants who had allegedly crossed the border from Pakistan into India, touching off another exchange of fire in which all three were killed, paramilitary officials said.

The renewed violence followed a five-day lull in fighting between Indian and Pakistani troops, who have been exchanging heavy mortar and artillery fire for months across the de facto border that divides Kashmir between the two nations. India has accused Pakistan of helping anti-India rebels stage deadly attacks on its military compounds — an allegation Pakistan denies.

Early Tuesday, at least two to four militants disguised in police uniforms opened fire on the military camp in Nagrota, a town on the main highway connecting Kashmir's two main cities of Srinagar and Jammu, according to senior police officer K. Rajendra.

The militants then stormed the base and made their way inside the camp, lobbing grenades and drawing troops into exchanging fire, said another police officer, S.P. Vaid.

An Indian army statement on Tuesday evening said the militants "forced their entry into officers' mess complex by throwing grenades and firing at the sentries," leaving four soldiers dead, including an officer.

It said the attackers later entered two army buildings, leading to a "hostage-like situation."

The statement said in the subsequent operation an army officer and two more soldiers were killed, but the soldiers rescued 12 soldiers, two women and two children from the buildings.

It said the bodies of three militants were recovered.

Earlier, a police officer said four militants were killed in the daylong battle.

Security officials described the rebels as "fidayeen," a term for militants ready to sacrifice their lives for a cause. They said soldiers were searching the massive camp for any other attackers, additional military casualties or unexploded explosives.

No other details were immediately available. Authorities closed the Srinagar-Jammu highway and ordered nearby schools to close as the fighting raged in Nagrota.

It was the most audacious attack on an Indian military base since a Sept. 18 assault at an army base in the town of Uri. That attack left 19 Indian army soldiers and four suspected militants dead, and escalated tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

India accused Pakistan of helping those militants with weapons, training and logistics, and said it sent troops across the border to launch "surgical strikes" against militants in the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir.

Since then, soldiers from both sides have pounded each other's military positions along the U.N.-drawn cease-fire line, now referred to as the Line of Control. At least 73 people, including civilians and soldiers, have been killed on both sides.

Meanwhile, relations at the government level have worsened, with the two nations expelling diplomats from their capitals as each side accuses the other of starting the fight.

India's Border Security Force said its soldiers on Tuesday gunned down three suspected militants who had infiltrated from Pakistan and were hiding behind bushes in the border district of Samba.

While clearing the militants' bodies, one of them — allegedly booby-trapped — exploded and injured four Indian soldiers and a police officer, according to a border officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief journalists.

India and Pakistan each administer a portion of Kashmir, but both claim the territory in its entirety. They have fought two wars over those claims since 1947.

Meanwhile, rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for the Muslim-majority region to either gain independence or merge with Pakistan. At least 70,000 people have been killed in that uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.

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Follow Aijaz Hussain on Twitter at twitter.com/hussain_aijaz

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