17 Russian Troops Killed in Caucasus Battleإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Russian troops suffered 17 dead and 24 wounded in a days-long battle with insurgents in the restive North Caucasus region, Chechnya's Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov said Saturday.
A previous toll on Friday was 13 killed in the deadliest unrest in months.
Federal forces said they used combat helicopters and artillery against at least 30 gunmen hiding in the heavily forested hills between Chechnya and the Caspian Sea region of Dagestan.
Chechnya's president, Ramzan Kadyrov, said that seven fighters had been "wiped out" in "special operations against illegal armed bands."
"Unfortunately there have been losses," Russian news agencies quoted Alhanov as saying Saturday. "During a special operation which lasted four days, 24 policemen were wounded and 17 killed."
The violent flare-up in the mostly Muslim region comes weeks before Russia holds a March 4 presidential election in which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is set to recapture the Kremlin seat he held in 2000-2008.
Putin's first term as president was largely defined by the brutal campaign in Chechnya that he began in 1999 in response to a mysterious wave of apartment block bombings that the authorities blamed on guerrillas.
Moscow had stamped its own rule on Chechnya by 2000 and has since poured enormous resources into rebuilding a region that has been one of Russia's poorest and most restless since Soviet times.
But the Chechen insurgency movement -- once grounded in a drive for independence -- has since gained Islamic roots and spread to other republics such as Dagestan on the east and Kabardino-Balkaria to the west.
Russian and rebel sources said the latest standoff first erupted on Monday and resumed Friday morning after an overnight lull.
Kadyrov is a former rebel turned Moscow supporter whose tough security crackdown has been accompanied by widespread allegations of rights abuses.
Dagestan is the region's largest republic and witnessed a portion of the fighting during the second Chechen campaign.
The region now experiences almost daily shootings and bombings that officials blame on local criminals and Islamists with links to Chechnya.