SRINAGAR/Islamabad - Indian troops killed at least 17 youths on Sunday during search and kill operations in different parts of Occupied Kashmir, where more than 100 protesters were also injured in clashes with the police.

As the valley braced for more violence, Islamabad said yesterday that the mindless killing spree in the Indian-held Kashmir has exposed the ugly and inhuman face of New Delhi.

The foreign ministry said that Indian state-terrorism had been perpetrated against the Kashmiris for decades in an attempt to subjugate and repress them.

Pointing out that freedom is fundamental human right, it urged the world community to recognise its duty towards the poor Kashmiris and compel India to immediately stop use of brutal force against them.

According to a Kashmir Media Service report, search operations were conducted in Islamabad and Shopian districts of South Kashmir.

As many as 15 young Kashmiri freedom fighters were martyred in three gunfights with Indian forces in Shopian and Islamabad districts, south of Srinagar – the main town in the region.

At least eleven of freedom fighters were killed along with two Indian soldiers in a protracted shootout in Shopian district’s Dragad village, where helicopters were seen swooping low over the battle zone.

Director General of Police Shesh Paul Vaid in a statement in Srinagar claimed that top freedom movement commanders were among those killed.

Another youth was killed in a brief gunfight with forces at Dialgam in Islamabad district, he added.

Security forces were still taking fire from gunmen in the village of Kachdora in Shopian, where one soldier and three insurgents had been killed, Vaid further said. “It is a massive operation. The fight is still on,” the IGP said.

Two civilians were also killed and dozens injured when police opened fire on thousands of demonstrators who poured onto the streets, throwing stones and chanting slogans against Indian rule.

There were also demonstrations in Srinagar, where authorities ordered all schools shut on Monday as rebel groups called for protests.

Reports suggested more than 100 civilians were injured when Indian forces used brute force and fired pellets and bullets on protesters in Draged and Kachdora areas. The authorities had also suspended train and internet services in south Kashmir following killings.

A large majority of civilians in Kashmir – India’s only Muslim-majority state – support the freedom fighters who have been fighting for decades for independence or for a merger with Pakistan. Tens of thousands, mostly civilians, have died in the freedom movement.

Last year was the deadliest of this decade in the region, with more than 200 alleged militants killed in a counter-insurgency offensive dubbed “Operation All Out”.

That upsurge in violence has escalated in 2018, with 49 armed freedom fighters already killed this year. The weekend clashes were the worst since a three-day skirmish in the forests of northern Kashmir last month left ten dead — five of them freedom fighters and the rest five from Indian government forces.

Pakistan – which has fought three wars with India over Kashmir – condemned the latest violence and said that brutal use of force will only fortify the resolve of the Kashmiri people for freedom.

“Pakistan condemns the brutal and indiscriminate use of force by the Indian occupation forces that has resulted in the death of at least 11 young innocent Kashmiris in different incidents in Shopian and Anantnag in Indian Occupied Kashmir,” read the foreign ministry statement, which was issued before the death toll of Kashmiris surged to 17.

It added, “There were also reports of continuing brutal crackdown, especially the use of pellet guns on protesters, including youth and children... in an attempt to subjugate and further repress the Kashmiris.

“We have repeatedly pointed out that the Kashmiri youth is being deliberately and systematically targeted with a view to breaking the will of the Kashmiri people. However, such cowardly actions of the occupying forces only serve to fortify the resolve of the Kashmiri people.”

The foreign ministry said the brave and resilient people of the Indian occupied Kashmir have demonstrated, again and again, that no amount of repression could deter them from pursuing the inalienable right to self-determination. Nor could any amount of Indian propaganda to paint the legitimate and indigenous Kashmiri struggle as ‘terrorism’ succeed in misleading the world.

Pakistan, it said, expresses its full solidarity with Kashmiris and “we urge international community to take cognisance of the gross and systematic violations of fundamental human rights”.  Pakistan also called upon the world to play its role in promoting a just and lasting solution of Kashmir dispute as per UNSC resolutions and wishes of Kashmiris.

International relations expert Dr Pervez Iqbal Cheema said former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had admitted that the situation in Held Kashmir was getting out of control because of the repressive policies of incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

He said the indigenous movement in held Kashmir was gaining momentum day by day despite heavy presence of Indian army. “Even the Indian politicians are criticising the policies of the Indian government as India is going towards isolation in the region. The Kashmiri issue has to be resolved for regional peace,” Dr Cheema said.