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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Church Head Alexy II Backs Chechen War

The Russian Orthodox Church threw its weight behind Moscow's military campaign in Chechnya on Friday, but urged troops to exercise clemency to civilians.

"The Russian Orthodox Church backs anti-terrorist tasks set by the Russian leadership for troops and law enforcement bodies," Patriarch Alexy II said in a statement.

"Political settlement of the Chechen problem is impossible without restoring law and order," he added.

Russian leaders have justified the seven-week military operation in Chechnya by saying they need to wipe out Islamic militants based in the North Caucasus region.

The military onslaught, marked by extensive use of warplanes and artillery, has prompted nearly 200,000 Chechens to flee for safety to neighboring regions. Witnesses also say Russian bombings have caused major civilian casualties.

"I deem it extremely important that civilians, especially those who proved they were not involved in lawlessness and clearly refused to back bandits and terrorists, do not suffer in the course of the struggle against criminals," the patriarch said.

"This will demand from the armed forces the highest degree of responsibility in choosing the means of warfare as well as utmost attention to the needs of the civilian population," he added.