SRINAGAR: Three militants were killed while a top Hizbul Mujahideen commander managed to give slip to security forces in an overnight encounter in south Kashmir's volatile Shopian district. Two army soldiers also died while at least 3 more were injured in the encounter.

Witnesses said the exchange of fire resumed at the crack of dawn today with a group of militants, who were presumed dead, opening indiscriminate fire at forces surrounding the site of the encounter which began last evening in Awneera Zainapora village of Shopian.

"They emerged from the rubble after overnight lull and fired indiscriminately at our men. The fire was effectively retaliated. We are closing in on the site. Mopping operation is underway. It will be over in a couple of hours," a senior police officer said, wishing anonymity.

Director General of J&K Police, S P Vaid, said three militants were killed in the encounter, "Today morning 3 Terrorists Eliminated at Zainpora Shopian. Well done boys!" he tweeted, without revealing the identity of the militants.

Residents said forces blasted four houses in an attempt to kill the militants who are "shifting their location". Two army men were killed and four others, including a captain-ranked officer, were injured in the initial phase of firing last evening after the forces laid siege around the village following inputs about the presence of militants there.

Police sources said a group of militants, including Hizbul Mujahideen's operational commander, Yasin Itoo, alias Mehmood Ghaznavi, district commanders, Saddam Padroo and Altaf Kachroo, along with other militants were holding a meeting in the area when they were trapped.

Sources said taking cover of the darkness, the militant commanders are reported to have escaped from the area while three militants identified as Irfan-ul-Sheikh, Umar Majeed and Adil Malik, were killed in the encounter. All are from south Kashmir areas.

Itoo, who has been affiliated with Hizb from more than two decades, is a recycled militant. Police believes he has been to Pakistan on two occasions. He had vanished from the militancy scene and was believed to be dead with the Hurriyat offering his in-absentia funeral prayers last year.

"He resurfaced in 2016 unrest during which he addressed protest rallies. He is the mainstay of Hizb in Kashmir and his death will deal a severe blow to the outfit's operations," the police officer said, adding that Padroo and Kachroo became active after the 2010 civilian uprising.

Thousands of residents from adjoining villages marched to the site of encounter last evening and pelted stones at the security forces, sparking clashes during which at least two dozen protesters were injured. Many among the injured have suffered bullet and pellet injuries, doctors said, but their condition is stable.

Clashes are going on in the area when this report was filed with the authorities making arrangements to hand over the bodies of the militants to their families.