SRINAGAR: More than two dozen civilians were injured in clashes with government forces during a cordon and search operation in Shopian district today, as counter-insurgency operations pick up in the restive south Kashmir.

Witnesses and police sources said forces laid siege around the villages of Heff, Shermal and Achan in south Kashmir on Wednesday morning following inputs about the presence of a group of militants there.

According to police sources, the families of around four to five militants of Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizbul Mujahideen live in these villages.

As soon as the searches were started, agitated villagers, including women and elderly, came of out of their homes and staged protests during which slogans were shouted.

Forces moved to disperse the demonstration but the protesters started pelting stones at them, sparking clashes during which teargas, stun grenades and pellets were used to disperse them.

Sources said at least 30 civilians, mainly youths, were injured, due to firearm injuries, with many of them suffering pellet injuries. The injured were admitted at different hospitals of Shopian district.

One of the youth suffered pellet injuries in his eyes following and he was referred for specialised treatment to Srinagar's SMHS hospital.

Locals blamed forces for rampaging the villages, assaulting residents and damaging property, without any rhyme or reason, " They entered into the homes and broke windows. It was an all out assault on people," Ghulam Rasool, a resident of Heff said.

Locals also accused forces of assaulting the families of militants from these villages. Uncle of Saddam Padroo, a Hizb militant, was also reportedly assaulted. Senior police officers, however, could not be reached for comments.

"At least, dozen forces personnel were injured in the clashes due to stone pelting. Our forces exercised maximum restraint due to which situation didn't go out of control," sources said.

Government forces have intensified cordon and search operations in Kashmir Valley to curb the movement of militants whose numbers have doubled since the past two years, forcing the mainstream political parties and their activists out of Shopian, Kulgam, Anantnag and Pulwama districts.

Rights activists believe dozens of local youth from these districts, particularly Pulwama, have been "forced" to join militants because of "systematic persecution" at the hands of security forces.

In a recent case from Shopian, a youth involved in stone pelting who wanted to return to normal life, was booked under the draconian Public Safety Act on multiple occasions with even his family facing harassment at the hands of forces.

Zubair Ahmad Turray disappeared from police custody earlier this month, with Shopian town observing shutdown for four days after which he surfaced in a video wherein he detailed the events that "forced" him to join militants.