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Ten Jewish Families Flee Chechnya As Dark War Clouds Threaten Region

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Ten Jewish families have escaped the battle zones of the breakaway Caucasus republic of Chechnya, where the threat of a Russian civil was is looming, according to officials with the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The agency is providing housing and additional aid to the families, totaling 30 individuals, who fled the troubled region for the northern Caucasus cities of Nalchik and Pyatigorsk.

Some 40 Jewish families still remain in Chechnya, according to Baruch Gur, head of the Jewish Agency’s unit for Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

The agency is also helping some 50 other Jewish refuges who managed in recent weeks to flee the area torn by fighting between Russian and separatist Chechen forces.

Russian troops and tanks stormed the republic last week, and President Boris Yeltsin has been threatening an all-out war on Chechnya, which declared independence from Russia three years ago.

Amid fears of a violent military confrontation, Jewish leaders here and abroad are worrying about how to protect and evacuate the few remaining Jews in the highly volatile region.

According to Gur, the agency is attempting to provide the refugees with the proper documents, so they can leave on direct flights to Israel.

Several families from Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, were brought by the agency to Israel in recent weeks after they fled to safety in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, Gur said.

About 1,500 Jews previously lived in Chechnya, but most left for Israel during the past five years.

Those still in Chechnya, according to Gur, have decided to remain because of old age, or because they do not want to abandon their property.

Gur said that many of them have said they have no interest in leaving and reported last week that they were not in danger.

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