January 18, 1996
Web posted at: 7:30 a.m EST (1230 GMT)
From Correspondent Eileen O'Connor and wire reports
KHASAVYURT, Russia (CNN) -- As fighting continued Thursday between Russian troops and determined Chechen rebels in the southern Russia village of Pervomaiskaya, the battle also spread to nearby villages in the Dagestan region. Russian military officials are keeping reporters away from the area but it appeared that rebels received reinforcements overnight and were able to catch the Russians by surprise by attacking from the rear.
It was not clear if the new combatants were rebels who crossed into Dagestan from nearby Chechnya or if they were local Dagestanis sympathetic to the Chechen separatist cause. Some of the rebel reinforcements managed to escape into Chechnya, but many were killed, the Interfax news agency reported. The report could not be independently confirmed. The Russians said seven of their troops were killed and nine wounded in the fighting.
Russian news media reported the rebels tried to break out of Pervomaiskaya and were forced back into the destroyed village, where they and dozens of hostages have been trapped for a week. At dawn Thursday, the Russians responded with a new barrage of artillery and rocket fire, and combat jets and helicopter gunships bombed the village. Heavy snow limited visibility.
Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said Thursday that no hostages remained in the village. Before the Russian shelling began Wednesday, the Federal Security Service said only a handful of hostages remained But a rebel spokesman in Chechnya said Wednesday that 16 hostages had been killed by Russian shelling and many wounded.
-- More details soon --
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