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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Guerrillas Call for Jihad in Dagestan

While Chechen-backed guerrillas called Tuesday for a holy war to liberate Dagestan from Russia, security officials met in the Kremlin and discussed a response.

"A package of measures for imposing order and discipline in Dagestan has been prepared, was approved today by the president of Russia and will be implemented step-by-step," said Vladimir Putin, the new acting prime minister.

Hundreds of Islamic guerrillas from Chechnya invaded neighboring Dagestan four days ago, seizing remote mountain villages and challenging Moscow.

So far, apparently eight Russian soldiers have been killed - four by friendly fire - and thousands of civilians have fled. No rebel casualties have been confirmed.

Putin, who met President Boris Yeltsin in the Kremlin Tuesday to brief him, said order would be restored within two weeks. He did not say how.

Other security officials were also upbeat. The chief of General Staff, Anatoly Kvashnin, told Putin that federal forces were gaining the upper hand against hundreds of rebels led by Chechen warlords Khattab and Shamil Basayev.

Officials on the ground in Dagestan, in telephone interviews on Tuesday, could not provide definitive confirmation of Kvashnin's claim.

Nor were the rebels showing signs Tuesday that their retreats were anything other than tactical.

Abdul Musayev, a spokesman for the Dagestani Interior Ministry, said Tuesday by telephone from Makhachkala that the rebels had withdrawn from three of the five villages they had first seized on Saturday.

But Musayev said fighting was continuing in the Botlikh district, where Russian forces hit at the rebels through airstrikes from helicopter gunships and jets. The rebels returned fire, shooting down two Russian helicopters over their strongholds and killing four pilots, the Dagestani government said.

There are also ground forces near Botlikh. Exactly how many remains unclear, but they include at least 500 volunteers, The Associated Press reported.

The Dagestan regional government has been arming civilians, and Itar-Tass reported that another 1,300 armed volunteers planned to leave for the Botlikh region on Wednesday.

General Viktor Kazantsev, army chief in the North Caucasus, said Russia was pulling its punches for now on Botlikh because the rebels - who number from 300 to 600 by Russian estimates - were using civilians as human shields.

Among those Botlikh civilians was a shura, a council of Moslem leaders, that gathered in one village to declare Dagestan an independent state governed by Islamic law.

The shura called on Dagestan's Moslems to "fight until all the infidels are ousted from Moslem territory," a statement sent to news agencies said.

The moderate Moslem Dagestani leadership, who have more sway over the region's population of more than 30 tiny ethnic groups, denounced the rebels as extremists who are misusing Islam.

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov said Tuesday that Chechens were not behind the fighting in Dagestan, but "certain misguided" Chechens might be participating.

But Maskhadov, a moderate, has not been able to control guerrilla leaders like Basayev and Khattab.