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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Defense Minister Says Military Is 'Approaching Breakthrough'

ALKHAN-KALA, Chechnya -- Chechen snipers in high-rise buildings and trenches held off Russian troops trying to advance on the center of Grozny on Thursday, while a rain of Russian bombs and rockets blanketed the capital in thick smoke.

International pressure was building on Russia to end the war, but Russian officials vowed that neither the military's aims nor its tactics would change.

"A concrete combat task has been set for the troops and they will fulfill it, regardless of how certain countries outside Russia feel about it," presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky said at a news conference.

The Russians have been struggling to seize Grozny and have concentrated for the past week on Minutka Square.

Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev claimed that the operation to take Grozny "is approaching a breakthrough," Interfax reported. "Notwithstanding the losses among the storming groups in Grozny, the fighters' losses are far higher than ours."

But Russian troops seemed to be making little progress, and a Chechen leader claimed they were being forced to retreat.

Civilian deaths and the high number of refugees - up to 250,000 have fled Chechnya since the fighting began - have prompted international criticism.

The International Red Cross said Thursday it had reminded Russia of its duties under the Geneva Conventions.

The authorities had also not yet granted access to prisoners being held by Russian forces, the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement issued in Geneva.

"The ICRC has reminded the authorities concerned of their obligations under international humanitarian law, notably to spare civilians and their property during military operations and refrain from using the threat of violence," the organization said.