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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Troops Say They Are Back in Control

SHALI, Chechnya -- Russia said its soldiers pushed further Wednesday into the Chechen mountains where rebels have key bases and asserted it was back in control of towns where rebels launched surprise attacks.

Russia also said its forces blocked an attempt by Chechen fighters to break out of Grozny, which has been shelled intensively for weeks.

After facing little resistance in its months-long drive to take control of Chechnya, Russia was forced on the defensive in recent days by strong counterattacks, but claimed to have regained its momentum on Wednesday.

Russian paratroopers took control of a mountain road leading to the rebel-held village of Sharoi and captured the strategic heights nearby, blocking the rebels from getting reinforcements and supplies, the military said.

Russia also sent reinforcements to troops surrounding Vedeno, a large town deep in the mountains, and warplanes bombed rebel bases in the Vedeno area and the Argun gorge northwest of Sharoi, Itar-Tass reported.

The rebels mounted weekend attacks on Gudermes, Shali and Argun, which Russia claimed to have taken under control in December. Russian officials said troops had regained control of all three Wednesday.

Nikolai Koshman, the Kremlin's emissary for Chechnya, visited Shali on Wednesday to tell residents that water and heat would soon be restored.

NTV television showed some local residents shouting complaints at Koshman that Russian forces had killed civilians along with rebels.

Refugees from Grozny also accused Russian forces of indiscriminately killing civilians along with rebels.

Rebels have mounted fierce resistance as Russian patrols try to take Grozny neighborhood-by-neighborhood. The rebels are well-entrenched in the city center and have shooting positions throughout the ruined city.

Itar-Tass said Russian forces repulsed about 30 rebels who tried to break out of Grozny overnight, killing nine of them. The report said that up to 70 rebels were killed throughout Chechnya and 10 rebel bases destroyed over the past day, while three Russian soldiers were wounded in the fighting. However, Interfax said 15 Russian servicemen were killed and 38 wounded in Chechnya on Tuesday.

Federal commanders meanwhile admitted that further operations would be necessary to clear rebel pockets from Argun and Shali.

The Security Council secretary, Sergei Ivanov, told reporters militants had executed 700 civilians for refusing to cooperate with them, and had killed about 300 people who were being held for ransom.