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SRINAGAR: Seven civilians died in an expolision that followed after an encounter in which three local militants were killed in South Kashmir's Kulgam district on Sunday. Reports said that the gunfight took place after security forces cordoned off a village in Kulgam on a tip-off that militants were hiding there. The exchange lasted several hours in which three Jaish-e-Mohammad militants were killed and two Army soldiers injured.

Police identified the slain trio as Zubair Lone son of Farooq Ahmad resident of Awhatoo Kulgam, Shahdil Tantray son of Abdul Rashid resident of Sudershanpora Wangam Shopian and Yazil Makro son of Mushtaq resident of Arwani Anantnag. So far, seven civilians have lost their lives in post encounter explosion, reports added. Commneting over the blast of unexplored shell near the encounter site that resulted in civilian deaths, police said: "Someone from the crowd fiddled with an unexploded substance, resulting in the tragic incident." 

Reports from the village said locals were busy dousing the flames at the house that was damaged during the encounter when a defeating explosion occurred.  The Kulgam district hospital authorities said initially three injured where brought to the hospital who were declared dead on arrival. "Two injured civilians while being taken to a Srinagar hospital died on the way while another was declared brought dead by doctors at the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences in Srinagar," the spokesman said. 

Over 40 others injured reportedly injured are being treated in different hospitals. The seven slain civilians have been reportedly identified as Ubaid Laway son of Mohammad Maqbool Laway, Uzair Ahmad, Mansoor Ahmad, Talib Maqbool of Laroo, Tajamul Ahmad of Denew Bogund, Irshad Ahmad of Shurat and Auqib Ahmad Sheikh son of Gul Mohd of Makhanpora, Kulgam. 

There is an all pervasive sense of mourning in Laroo village and other places of the district as locals were rushing to the village to enquire about the well-being of their relatives and friends. Authorities have suspended cellphone and internet services and ordered a curfew in Kulgam in a bid to thwart more protests. The Islamic University of Science and Technology have temporarily postponed all the exams scheduled for tomorrow.

Former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti while expressing grief over the incident said: "Civilians are once again caught in the cross-fire of violence, adding fuel to the already volatile situation." Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said alienating the people in the fight against militancy is a "sure fire recipe for losing the fight".

"How long can we go on ignoring the ground realities and living in denial about how bad things are in Kashmir?" The separatist camp called the deaths as 'bloodbath' and urged people to protest on Monday. Kulgam MLA and CPI(M) leader M Y Tarigami expressed grief over the loss of civilian lives and demanded a probe into the incident. “It is devastating. This needs to be investigated through an impartial probe…We are now tired of crying and demanding, but those who matter have turned a deaf ear,” he said.

Advisor to the Governor, K Vijay Kumar, and DGP Dilbag Singh also expressed regret over the loss of civilian lives. A police spokesman said encounter sites should be avoided by civilians till they are properly sanitised. J&K Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) President G.A. Mir has expressed deep shock and grief over the civilian’s killings. Expressing anguish over the civilian killings leading deteriorating situation in South Kashmir, JKPCC President expressed dismay over the incident.

Mir emphasized that the Forces should exercise restraint ensuring that there is no loss of civilians, but at the sametime, G.A. Mir appealed the people to avoid confronting Forces, as that will invite action by them leading to the loss of lives. Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) Vice President Ghulam Nabi Monga today said Government of India’s wrong policies towards Kashmir are responsible for such killings.

He said, it is painful to see innocent civilians being killed in Kashmir in such a manner. “Every day innocent civilians are being killed in Kashmir which must be a cause for concern for every right thinking person in the country.

Er. Rasheed has appealed world community to help in stopping genocide of Kashmiris. In a statement issued today Er. Rasheed said “Every day is a black day for Kashmiris and New Delhi seems to have decided to silence Kashmiris on all costs. Those who have been misleading world community and defaming Kashmiris by calling few unfortunate killings of Kashmiris Pandits as ethnic cleansing should come forward and explain why Kashmir is being turned into an experimental lab just to avoid a resolution of Kashmir dispute”.