Four suspected rebels and two Indian army soldiers have been killed in a fierce gunbattle in Indian-controlled Kashmir, officials said Sunday.

Fighting began after police and soldiers cordoned off southern Frisal village overnight following a tip that militants were hiding in a civilian house, said police Inspector-General Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani.

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He said that militants sprayed automatic gunfire to break the cordon, leading to an exchange of gunfire with police and soldiers that killed four militants and two soldiers.

The Indian army said three soldiers were injured. According to residents, government forces blasted the house with explosives.

As the fighting raged, clashes erupted between security forces and neighboring villagers who tried to march to Frisal in solidarity with militants. Troops fired tear gas canisters to stop the rock-throwing protesters.

Militants fighting against Indian rule have wide support among Kashmir's Muslims, who often protest in the streets during security operations to help militants escape.

Kashmir is divided between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan. Both counties claim the disputed territory in its entirety.

Rebels have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989. More than 68,000 people have been killed in the uprising and Indian military crackdown.