The rest of Chechnya, which has been subject to a six-month-old offensive by Moscow's forces, seemed relatively calm as Russia headed for a presidential election on Sunday which Acting President Vladimir Putin is widely expected to win.
Russian news agencies quoted the military as saying that the village of Komsomolskoye, at the mouth of a key gorge leading into the southern mountains, was nearly under Russian control, with remaining rebels restricted to one small area.
Tanks, warplanes and artillery have blasted the small settlement to pieces in their efforts to dislodge the rebels, who broke out from Russian encirclement in the Argun gorge.
The rebels in the village, some of whom have surrendered, are believed to be led by Chechen commander Ruslan Gelayev, who has so far escaped capture.
The war in Chechnya has given Putin a big boost in the runup to Sunday's election, despite a recent escalation in the number of Russian casualties. The authorities say the election will also be held in Chechnya and some soldiers have already voted.
The rebel kavkaz.org Internet website said Russia was concentrating troops in the Vedeno gorge east of Argun, which also runs into the mountains. The rebels have managed to hold out in the mountains despite Russia's superior firepower.
The military has warned that the coming of spring in Chechnya will give the rebels an extra tactical advantage in their stated aim of waging guerrilla war against Russia as it will be easier to move around and use the greenery as camouflage.
Russian news agencies said warplanes carried out 13 missions in the last 24 hours, hitting villages in the mountains.
Outside the conflict zone, Russian news agencies reported that authorities had arrested the heads of a bank in Moscow which the police alleged was helping fund the rebels.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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