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Despite a plea for peace -- but no offer of surrender -- from Chechnya's president Wednesday, Russian forces launched their harshest attack yet on the Chechen capital, Grozny, showering the city with artillery and rockets. Scattered groups of haggard Chechen fighters resisted the onslaught, but many retreated house by house as Russian soldiers claimed block after block of territory. Members of President Dzhokhar Dudayev's government reportedly joined the stream of refugees, though successive Russian air raids failed to dislodge rebels from the surrounding Caucasian mountains. Even a swift victory may be too little, too late to rally international opinion to Russian President Boris Yeltsin's defense: TIME State Department correspondent J.F.O. McAllister says Clinton Administration officials have actually been grumbling to Yeltsin about the sloppy military effort "for some time," to little effect because of an uncertain chain-of-command within the Kremlin.