NEW DELHI - The Indian government on Wednesday announced it would halt military operations during the holy month of Ramazan in restive Indian-occupied Kashmir.

“The centre asks security forces not to launch operations in Jammu and Kashmir during the holy month of Ramazan. Decision taken to help the peace-loving Muslims observe Ramazan in a peaceful environment,” home minister Rajnath Singh wrote on twitter.

However, Singh said the security forces would retaliate if they came under any attack. “Security forces to reserve the right to retaliate if attacked or if essential to protect the lives of innocent people,” Singh said.

Singh said he expects cooperation from the stakeholders. “Government expects everyone to cooperate in this initiative and help the Muslim brothers and sisters to observe Ramazan peacefully and without any difficulties,” Singh said.

There was no immediate response from Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest group active in Held Kashmir , but Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) outrightly rejected the truce offer.

“We are in favour of negotiations but the talks of negotiations in presence of armed occupational forces in the region are lies,” a LeT spokesman said in a statement to a Kashmir-based news agency.

Indian authorities and the Hizbul Mujahideen, whose fighters are all from Kashmir, briefly ceased fighting in 2000. However, the three-decade-old conflict has never shown any serious sign of ending.

Held Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has welcomed the Indian government’s move. Mufti said such a decision will go a long way in creating a peaceful and amicable environment for a sustained dialogue process.

The 30-day halt is the first of its kind in Indian-controlled Kashmir for nearly two decades, and follows an escalation of violence in recent months in the Muslim-majority Himalayan region.

India has 500,000 troops in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both.

The decision means Indian troops will stop the pursuit of militants and door-to-door house searches - but they will still retaliate if attacked, officials said. Violence escalated after Indian troops killed a top Hizb commander in a 2016 gunfight that led to months of street protests in which scores of demonstrators were killed.

Dozens of young men have since joined fighter groups and there are now almost daily gunfights between armed rebels and Indian soldiers.

More than 200 militants and 57 civilians were killed in 2017. Many of the civilians were killed in protests to stop troops firing on holed-up rebels.

More than 70 militants have been killed this year in dozens of gunfights and more than 30 civilians have also died.