The United States has denounced the hostage siege at a school in southern Russia as a despicable and barbaric act of terror.

A White House statement says responsibility for the loss of life rests with the terrorists. It says there is no justification for taking innocent life and stresses that the United States stands side by side with Russia.

Meanwhile, the European Union expressed regret that the crisis could not be resolved peacefully, but said it understands the difficult dilemma Russia's government faced.

During a two-day meeting of EU foreign ministers in the Netherlands, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told reporters he cannot imagine any justification for taking children hostage.