About 20 armed men and women wearing explosive belts seized a school in southern Russia and are holding at least 300 hostages, including children, in the country's fourth terrorist attack in eight days. As many as 10 people have died in the incident. The fighters demanded the release of Chechen rebels held after a raid in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia in June. Valery Andreev, a spokesman for the Federal Security Service, said on state television that negotiations had begun. Three people were killed in the storming of the school in Beslan, North Ossetia, said Alexander Osiptsov, a spokesman for the republic's government, in a telephone interview. Seven people died in a hospital, the Itar-Tass news service reported. U.S. President George W. Bush told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call that he was prepared to offer any support needed to bring about the release of the hostages, the Kremlin press service told Russia's Interfax news agency. The United Nations Security Council called an emergency session to discuss terrorism in Russia. The seizure of the school pointed up the vulnerability of Russians to violence tied to Islamic rebels, informs Bloomberg. According to Reuters, a heavily armed gang seized up to 400 hostages at a Russian school near Chechnya on Wednesday and threatened to shoot dead 50 children for any one of their comrades killed, a senior local official said. Itar-Tass news agency said negotiations had begun with the gang of up to 17 men and women who stormed into the secondary school in the town of Beslan during a morning ceremony marking the first day of the new school year. The assault in North Ossetia province bore the signs of a Chechen rebel operation and was the latest in a recent spate of deadly attacks in Russia which have killed more than 100. But Chechen separatists said they had nothing to do with it. Relatives of the captives huddled in a cultural center awaiting news from the school, now surrounded by armed troops. President Vladimir Putin, facing a major challenge to his security policies, broke off his seaside holiday and rushed to Moscow. But he made no public statements. As darkness fell, there were no signs of an end to the siege of the two-story brick building, where hostages had been herded into the gym, according to Russian television. Armored vehicles stood nearby as did at least one de-mining vehicle. Shots rang out periodically from the school. Television said a violent electric storm knocked out power for a few moments, prompting volleys of firing from the startled gunmen. Attackers wearing suicide-bomb belts seized a school in a Russian region bordering Chechnya today and were holding hundreds of hostages, including 200 children. During the seizure, at least two people were killed, including a father who had brought his child to the school and was shot when he tried to resist the raiders. The seizure began after a ceremony marking the first day of the Russian school year, when it was likely that many parents had accompanied their children to the school, publishes NEWS.
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