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Blast Rocks Russian Military Hospital in North Ossetia, Bordering Chechnya - 2003-08-01

More than 30 people are dead and dozens more injured after a powerful truck bomb exploded outside a Russian military hospital in North Ossetia, bordering Chechnya. It was the latest in a string of deadly attacks on Russian targets in recent months.

The quiet of heavily fortified Mozdok was shattered Friday night when a truck packed with explosives made its way through the various checkpoints guarding the city and rammed through the hospital's gates.

The blast that followed was said to be so powerful that it was felt 15 kilometers away. It also reduced the multi-story hospital building to rubble.

Work began immediately to try to rescue at least 100 people, who emergency ministry officials say were inside the hospital at the time of the attack, but that effort was hampered from the start by a raging fire.

No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, the second in Mozdok in as many months. Russian news agencies quote military officials as saying they have no doubt Chechen separatist rebels are to blame.

Mozdok was the principal base for Russian troops during their second Chechen campaign back in 1999. Until now, the town has been largely spared from the region's ongoing violence.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was immediately notified of the attack, ordered an emergency ministry plane with rescuers and equipment into the region. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov is also visiting the scene.

Meanwhile, the prosecutor's office of the North Ossetian republic has opened legal proceedings to check into what it calls "this act of terror."

In Moscow, President Putin's special envoy on human rights in Chechnya, Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, said terrorists would not succeed in destabilizing Russia or in ruining the ongoing peace process for the separatist republic. Chechen rebels reject the plan and have vowed to fight on to oust tens of thousands of Russian troops.