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MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan – A prominent Kashmir rebel leader recently blacklisted as a terrorist by the United States vowed on Saturday to continue fighting until India relinquishes control of the disputed Himalayan region.
"We will not end this fight without liberating Kashmir from India," Syed Salahuddin, who heads the Hizbul Mujahideen militant group, said amid tight security in a news conference in Muzaffarabad, the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir.
The U.S. State Department classified 71-year-old Salahuddin as a "global terrorist" on the eve of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Washington last month, a decision the militant leader said was only made to appease India. He said Hizbul Mujahideen only targets Indian forces and that the Islamic State group and al-Qaida have no presence in Kashmir.
"Donald Trump's decision will be thrown out if anyone challenges it in American courts," he said. "No other Western nation has endorsed what this crazy Donald Trump has done," he said.
Salahuddin called on the United Nations to implement its resolutions and give Kashmir's people the right to vote on independence or merging with Pakistan. He said Hizbul Mujahideen may consider peace talks with India if Russia or China can guarantee that such talks would produce results.
Salahuddin later led a rally in the city and praised Pakistan for continued support in Kashmir. India accuses Pakistan of backing Kashmir insurgents in the region split between the two nations, a charge Islamabad denies. The nuclear-armed South Asian rivals claim the territory in its entirety, having fought two of their three wars over it since 1947.
Salahuddin is based in Pakistan's part of Kashmir and often addresses public rallies there.
On Monday, Salahuddin had called for a "Week of Resistance," including two days of strikes starting July 8. That's the anniversary of last year's killing of Burhan Wani, a young protest leader whose death enraged people across Kashmir.
Islamabad on Saturday handed over to New Delhi a list of 546 Indian prisoners being held in Pakistan, according to a Foreign Ministry statement. Under an accord, Pakistan and India routinely exchange lists of each other's prisoners on July 1.
Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.