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Truck Blast Razes Hospital, 50 Dead

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Southern Russia -- A suicide bomber rammed a KamAZ truck full of explosives through the gates of a military hospital near Chechnya, destroying the four-story brick building and leaving at least 50 people dead. Rescuers called off a search operation for victims Sunday, saying hope had disappeared of finding any survivors of the bombing Friday night in Mozdok, a town in North Ossetia that serves as a base for troops fighting in Chechnya.

The bodies of a nurse and four others believed trapped alive under the rubble were pulled out overnight, raising the death toll to 50, said Lieutenant Colonel Yury Miroshnichenko, spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry in southern Russia. Sixty-four injured remained hospitalized Sunday, he said.

The dead included at least 22 military personnel, the ministry said.

Chechen rebels were suspected of being behind the attack, since it bore similarities to other bombings and targeted a facility treating soldiers injured fighting in Chechnya. Interfax, citing law enforcement sources, said rebel warlord Shamil Basayev was thought to be the organizer.

The truck, driven by an unidentified man, broke through the hospital gates, went past some tents and pulled up at the reception office, where it exploded, leaving a crater 8 meters across and 3 meters deep, said Major General Nikolai Lityuk, deputy chief of the Emergency Situations Ministry's southern branch.

Putin vowed Saturday that terrorist acts will not stop what he called efforts aimed at fostering peace in Chechnya. In a condolence telegram, Putin called the bombing "yet another confirmation of the inhumanity and cruelty of the bandits who are trying to destabilize the situation in the Northern Caucasus."

A series of suicide bombings blamed on Chechen rebels -- including last month's double suicide bombing at a rock festival in Moscow -- have killed about 150 people since May.

(The Moscow Times 04.viii.03)

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