MOSCOW — In a dangerous sign that Russia's conflict in the mountainous region of Dagestan has spread to neighboring Chechnya, Russia's Interior Ministry on Saturday confirmed its military bombed a village and exchanged gunfire at a police outpost in the breakaway republic.
Russia's massive offensive against a group of Islamic rebels in western Dagestan continued through the night for the first time, and Russian officials claimed to have gained control of several strategic positions.
There were also unverifiable claims from the Russian side that the rebels were in panic and disarray.
However, the 1994-96 Chechen war proved that the claims by the press services of Russia's Interior and Defense ministries should be treated with extreme caution during times of conflict.
The Interior Ministry confirmed bombing and fighting inside Chechnya--after claims by Chechen officials in the past few days that this was occurring. The confirmation followed comments Friday by Russia's acting prime minister, Vladimir V. Putin, that Russia would pursue the rebels into Chechnya, a separatist Islamic republic that has slipped out of Russian control.
The conflict in Dagestan broke out when Islamic fundamentalist rebels invaded the southern republic from Chechnya and seized several villages a week ago.
Russia, desperate to avoid losing control of a further slice of southern territory, launched a massive onslaught to try to drive the guerrillas out.
In fighting Friday, four Russian soldiers were killed and 13 wounded, raising the official Russian death total to 15. Russia claims to have killed 200 guerrillas, but the rebel side concedes only five dead.
Foreign journalists have been cautious about traveling to the region, a stronghold of criminal gangs.