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Moscow Officials Dispute Death Cause

Health officials repeated Tuesday that all but two of the 118 hostages killed in the deadly takeover of a Moscow theater died from gas, refuting reported comments by the city's top prosecutor that scores died of gunshots.

The Interfax news agency earlier quoted the Moscow Prosecutor Mikhail Avdyukov saying 45 of the hostages died after being shot, not from the gas used by government troops in the raid ending the stand-off Saturday.

But a Moscow Health Department spokeswoman quickly underlined that only two died of gunshot wounds.

The prosecutor's office then said the figure of 45 was incorrect. A spokeswoman, Svetlana Petrenko, said it appeared the Interfax report misrepresented Avdyukov's statement, but that the office was still looking into the circumstances.

Russian medical officials said earlier that 116 of the hostages held by Chechen rebels in a Moscow theater had succumbed to the gas, the exact composition of which remained a secret — even to medical personnel treating the victims.

Officials said Monday that 405 of the freed captives remained hospitalized for treatment for exposure to the gas — 45 of them in grave condition — after 239 others were released.

Chechen rebels seized the theater and some 800 hostages during a performance Wednesday night. The take-over ended early Saturday, when Russian troops pumped the unknown gas into the theater then swept in. Russian officials said 50 rebels were killed during the storming of the building.