SRINAGAR: A woman was killed on Saturday while several others were injured during clashes near the site of an ongoing encounter in south Kashmir where a top Lashkar-e-Toiba militant is believed to be trapped along with his associate.

Police officials and witnesses said a large contingent of Army, J&K police and paramilitary troopers laid siege around Brenthi Batpora village of Anantnag district in wee hours today following inputs about the presence of militants in the village.

Sources said Bashir Lashkari, a top Lashkar-e-Toiba commander who is believed to be involved in the last month's killings of a senior police officer along with his five associates, is trapped along with his associate whose identity was not immediately known.

Witnesses said as soon as the villagers got to know about the search operation, they came out on the roads and started protesting. Announcements were made from local mosques, appealing people to come out and help the trapped militants in escaping.

Police said protests by locals, including women and children, boiled down into clashes during which protesters pelted stones at the forces in an attempt to break the cordon around the house where the suspected militants are holed up.

"The militants opened fire on our forces, sparking an encounter. In the cross firing, one lady sustained injuries and later on succumbed. However, some militants are holed up in the house. Efforts are on to take out the civilians out of this house,” a J&K Police spokesperson said.

The deceased has been identified as Tahira, a housewife who is believed to be in her forties. Sources said she was hit by a bullet in her back and was declared dead on arrival at Anantnag district hospital where she was taken for treatment.

However, residents alleged that the forces fired directly at the protesters, resulting in injuries to several persons. Sources said three more protesters were injured during the clashes, one of them a minor, and all of them were also hit by bullets.

"Two of them identified as Aqib Ahmad and Jasir Ahmad are being treated at District Hospital Anantnag while another civilian, who was hit by a bullet in his face and whose identity was not immediately known, was referred to Srinagar in a critical state," sources said.

A fierce exchange of gunfire is going on in the area when this report was filed. Clashes and protests are also taking place with people from adjoining villages rushing to the encounter site to help the militants in escaping.

Protests and clashes during encounters have become a common occurrence in Kashmir especially since the last year's killing of Hizb commander Burhan Wani which sparked off a bloodied civilian uprising in the Valley.

According to one estimate, more than dozen civilians have been killed at encounter sites while trying to help the militants in escaping. Authorities have issued advisories in past, asking people to stay away from encounter sites but that hasn't deterred them from coming to help of the trapped militants, most of whom are local youths.

(Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR: Clashes on Eid Day in Srinagar)