SRINAGAR: Three Army soldiers were killed when suspected militants ambushed forces in south Kashmir's Shopian in wee hours of Thursday. A woman was also killed by "stray bullet" during exchange of gunfire.

A J&K Police spokesperson said a cordon-and-search-operation party of 44 Rashtriya Rifles and Police's SOG laid siege around Kungnoo village in Shopian district following inputs about the presence of a group of militants there.

However, the search operation didn't yield any results and the search party was returning to the base when it was ambushed by militants in Mulu Chitragam at around 2 am.

"While returning from Kungnoo, the party was attacked by militants in Mulu Chitragam, resulting in injuries to six Army personnel, including two officers, of whom three succumbed to their injuries," the spokesperson said, without giving out further details.

The Hizbul Mujahideen outfit claimed the attack. A spokesman told local newspapers and news agencies that its militants carried out the attack in Shopian.

A police official said a woman identified as Taja Begum, a resident of Mulu where the militants struck, was hit by "stray bullet" inside her home during the exchange of gunfire and she also succumbed to the injuries.

Family and police sources said the woman was woken up by the sound of gunfire and she had reportedly tried to peep through the window of her home when she was hit. However, it could not be verified whose bullet hit her.

The killing sparked protests and minor clashes in Chitragam village following which a large contingent of police and paramilitary forces was deployed there to prevent the situation from escalating.

The protesters alleged that the forces went on a rampage in the vilage following the attack by damaging private property and also assaulting some residents. Srinagar based Army spokesman didn't answer calls despite repeated attempts.

The first two months of 2017 have been deadly for the security forces in Kashmir. On February 15, four Army soldiers including a major-ranked officer were killed in separate encounters in north Kashmir. Four militants were also killed in the encounters.

On February 12, two Army soldiers were killed while four militants and two civilians were also shot dead in a deadly encounter in south Kashmir's Kulgam district which brought the Valley in the edge. At least 22 militants have bwen killed this year in the state so far.