Commandos stormed a school Friday in southern Russia and overcame separatist rebels holding hundreds of hostages as crying children, some naked and covered in blood, fled the building through explosions and gunfire. Health officials said more than 200 people died, the Interfax news agency reported. Ninety-five victims were identified - many of them children whose shattered, bloodied bodies were placed on lines of stretchers - and Interfax quoted unnamed sources in the regional Health Ministry as saying more than 200 people were killed by fire from the militants or died from their wounds. Hundreds of hostages survived the crisis, which in targeting children on the first day of classes crossed a boundary and amounted to a significant escalation in the decade-old Russian-Chechen conflict. More than 700 others were injured, officials said. Twenty militants were killed in more than 10 hours of gunfights with security forces, 10 of them Arabs, Valery Andreyev, the region's Federal Security Service chief, said in televised comments. Putin's adviser on Chechnya, Aslanbek Aslakhanov, also said a number of the dead militants were Arab mercenaries. After trading fire with militants holed up in the basement of a school annex, officials said the fighting was over, but that four militants remained at large. Three suspected hostage-takers were arrested trying to escape wearing civilian dress, Channel One TV reported, and Ekho Moskvy radio said a suspected female hostage-taker was detained when she approached an area hospital wearing a white robe. The Arab presence among the attackers would bolster Putin's case that the Russian campaign in neighboring Chechnya, where mostly Muslim separatists have been fighting Russian forces in a brutal war for most of the past decade, is part of the war on international terrorism, informs Guardian Unlimited. According to VOANews, the hostage crisis at a school in southern Russian has ended, after a daylong battle between militants and authorities that left at least 100 people dead, many of them children, and hundreds more wounded. It is unclear how the fighting started on Friday, two days after suspected Chechen militants took as many as 1,200 people hostage at the school in the town of Beslan. Authorities say Russian forces did not plan to use force but did so after the militants set off explosives. Russian troops stormed a school on Friday, blaming Chechen hostage-takers for a bloody battle in which more than 200 people -- dozens of them children -- were killed and hundreds were wounded. Terrified children, some naked and others with bloodied faces, ran screaming for safety after a 53-hour ordeal at the hands of gunmen with bombs strapped to their waists. Machinegun fire rattled out and helicopters clattered overhead. The military operation against the gunmen, "who put up lengthy resistance in the school is now over," a Russian official overseeing the mission was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency late on Friday night. Russian troops -- with special forces spearheading the storming -- killed 27 hostage-takers and captured three alive, officials told Interfax. Burly soldiers grabbed the fleeing children and rushed them to waiting medics. Some had blood streaming from wounds. Official details and figures fluctuated amid the confusion and carnage in Beslan in the North Ossetia region bordering troubled Chechnya, where Moscow has faced a decade-old revolt. "More than 200 people died as a result of shooting by the gunmen or from wounds received as a result of explosions set off by the gunmen," a Health Ministry source in North Ossetia was quoted as saying by Interfax. Russian media said 860 pupils attended Middle School No.1. Their number may have been swollen to around 1,500 by parents and relatives attending a first-day ceremony traditional in Russian schools, publishes Reuter.
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