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9 Aug, 2008 13:04

Georgia resumes shelling the South Ossetian capital

The fighting in South Osstian capital, Tskhinvali, is continuing with Georgian troops once again entering the city. There are reports that Georgian Special Forces have been throwing grenades into basements where women an

Georgian soldiers are also reportedly trying to take control of a road leading from Tskhinvali to the Russian republic of North Ossetia.

RT correspondent Mikhail Lebedev is just a mile outside the city. He says: “Tskhinvali is in flames. You can see smoke coming from all over the place. Civilian buildings and the building of the South Ossetian authorities are penetrated by gunfire and artillery fire”.

South Ossetia claims more than 2,000 people have been killed in fighting so far. Georgia rejects this figure, saying it has lost only 30 soldiers.

More than 30,000 refugees have fled across the border to Russia's North Ossetial  in the past 36 hours.

The Russian military says three peacekeepers died overnight, raising to 15 the number of Russian peacekeepers killed since hostilities began more than 24 hours ago.

Seventy Russian peacekeepers have been wounded in the fighting. Twenty were evacuated to a hospital in Vladikavkas in North Ossetia during the night in a convoy which is reported to have been shelled by Georgian forces. That’s according to Land Forces spokesman Col. Igor Konashenkov.

After a lull in artillery fire late on Friday night, Georgian shelling of Tskhinvali again resumed on Saturday morning.

The Deputy Head of the Russian General Staff, Colonel General Anatoly Nogovitsin, briefed media on Russia's operations in the area in a press conference on Saturday morning (watch the video).

Aerial attacks

South Ossetian forces are claiming to have shot down two Georgian fighter planes. The jets were reportedly downed near the capital Tskhinvali.

Two Russian aircraft have been downed in the conflict zone, confirmed a Russian peacekeeping forces spokesman on Saturday. Georgian media are reporting that one of the pilots has been captured, and another has been found dead.

Georgia claims Russian planes have bombed its Marneuli air base. Georgian state channel 'Rustavi' reported that four people were killed and five wounded in the attack. A video of the incident has been released by the channel. Several military aircraft have reportedly been destroyed.

The attack hasn't been confirmed by the Russian military.

Meanwhile, Russian television channels have been blocked across the country, according to the head of the international media centre in the capital Tbilisi.

No western cameras in South Ossetia

The conflict over Georgia’s breakaway republic is as much about information as it is about weapons. South Ossetia's press service says western media outlets haven't been operating in the region “Since the conflict began”.

“Only the Russian media and one Ukrainian channel have been filming in the breakaway republic. No western camera crews have been working in the conflict zone”, Suslan Bekoev, South Ossetian committee for information and press, said.

Diplomatic efforts

Earlier on Saturday, President Medvedev said Russia would bring the violence to an end.

In a meeting with Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, Medvedev said Russian peacekeepers would attempt to “force the Georgian side to stop fighting. Meanwhile, a second emergency meeting of the UN Security Council has ended without agreement. It was held on Saturday morning, but no firm resolution to end the conflict was reached (watch the video).

Humanitarian concerns

South Ossetian authorities say Tbilisi's actions amount to genocide against the residents of the republic. Tskhinvali is reported to be in ruins, and five villages have been razed to the ground.

Tskhinvali and nearby villages are being evacuated. Both South Ossetians and Georgians are leaving the area. Those remaining are hiding in the underground shelters.

The situation reached the point that Georgian peacekeepers have been shooting at Russian peacekeepers. Now women, children and old people are dying in South Ossetia – most of them are citizens of the Russian Federation. According to the constitution, I, as the President of the Russian Federation, must protect lives and the dignity of Russian citizens wherever they are. Those responsible for the deaths of our citizens will be punished.

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev

Russia and the international community have called on Georgia to pull its troops out of the region. Russian president Dmitry Medvedev says Moscow will take appropriate political and military measures to stop the violence in South Ossetia.

Tshinvali is reported to be short of medicine and water, while most of the city's communication networks have been destroyed. Russian peacekeepers are assisting remaining residents.

The Russian Emergency Ministry has sent a mobile hospital to North Ossetia where thousands of refugees have fled from South Ossetia. The Russian President has ordered the government to take urgent measures to provide humanitarian aid to those leaving the conflict zone. Efforts are under way to move the wounded and other vulnerable civilians.

Troop Build-up

Georgia's other breakaway republic, Abkhazia, says Georgia is building up military forces on its border. Earlier, the republic's president, Sergey Bagapsh, said he was ready to help South Ossetia.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili told CNN on Friday that Georgia would withdraw its peacekeepers from Iraq. He has called on all reservists to immediately report for duty.

There are about 2,000 Georgian troops among coalition forces in Iraq, the third-largest contributor after the United States and Britain.

The future of South Ossetia has been disputed since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Although it declared independence from Georgia in the early 90s, it has never been officially recognised (watch the video).