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3 September 2004 -- Chaos has engulfed the scene of a hostage drama at a school in Russia's republic of North Ossetia.
Earlier today, the three-day crisis appeared headed to a quick end as Russian soldiers stormed the school building where some 20 militants demanding independence for Chechnya were holding more than 500 hostages.
RFE/RL correspondent Tatiana Sobol, reporting from the scene, described the lead-up to the assault: "The assault began after Emergency [Situation] Ministry workers were allowed [by the hostage takers] to take the dead bodies of killed hostages away from the territory of the school, after which intensive shooting began. At first there were two explosions, then the shooting intensified."
Soon after the rescue operation got under way, Russian forces claimed to have taken control of most of the school. But a new wave of shooting and explosions then broke out, indicating combat with some of the militants was continuing.
ITAR-TASS now reports that as many as 13 of the hostage takers may have fled the scene in the confusion. Local hospitals say they are treating some 250 wounded -- most of them children. Interfax reported that at least five children have been killed.
(Compiled from staff and agency reports)For full coverage on the hostage situation in North Ossetia, see RFE/RL's webpage on Ossetia.