An Army Major and a marine commando are among four security personnel who were killed in two fierce gun battles which raged in north Kashmir for the past two days. Four militants were also killed and three armymen including two Majors injured.

The Army suffered heavy casualties at Baniyari village on the fringes of the Jhelum river and the Wullar lake in Bandipore district, where an encounter started in the early hours of Tuesday.

Sources told The Hindu that on specific police information that militants were hiding in the area, a joint operation by 13 Rashtriya Rifles and the police was launched to flush them out.

Braving logistics odds, the troops cordoned off the village, reaching it by boat. When a posse of soldiers led by a Lt. Col and two Majors approached a house, one of the militants hiding there hurled a grenade, injuring at least six of them including officers.

Major J. S. Suri and a soldier of the rank of Naik were killed when they were trapped inside. The others managed to come out but in the process a Major and two others were injured. An unconfirmed report said a Lt. Col. received a bullet in the hand.

After the fierce fighting, firing on both sides stopped for the night and it resumed in the morning and continued till late in the afternoon. But overnight, the Army had tightened the cordon. It then used improvised explosive devices to bring down the house, killing the militants hiding there, ending the 25-hour operation,

One body was recovered and another was under debris which was being cleared, according to a defence spokesman, Lt. Col J. S. Brar.

Superintendent of Police Sheikh Junaid Mehmood told The Hindu that the militants, who were very active in the area, were identified as Moosa and Pasha, district commanders of the Hizbul Mujahideen and the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

In a similar operation in the Tangmulla area of Rafiabad, two militants and two armymen, including a marine commando, were killed in an ongoing gunfight. The encounter began when a search party of 32 Rashtriya Rifles confronted a group of militants. Of the three soldiers injured in the initial exchange of fire, two died, sources said. The bodies of the two militants were recovered but yet to be identified.

The bodies of Major Suri and the other soldiers, which are being brought to Srinagar, will be sent to their places with full military honours.

“It was a great loss to us. Major Suri and others fought valiantly,” said an officer who was in tears.

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