"I'm staying here till the last Jew is evacuated," a defiant Bashu Mansharov told Ynet on Saturday after the Jewish Agency evacuated hundreds of Jewish Georgians to safety as Georgian-Russian hostilities continue to rage in South Ossetia.
Mansharov is one of less than 50 Jews who have chosen to remain in the village of Gori, which borders on the disputed region. A five-storey residential building was among the targets hit in the village by Russian bombers, several civilians were reported killed.
At least 200 Jewish residents living near the ongoing Georgian-Russian hostilities have been evacuated by the Jewish Agency to the capital city of Tbilisi. Most from Gori.
The Dovershvili family was among those evacuated by the Agency from Gori to Tbilisi. "Our town is under constant bombardment," Shalva Dovershvili told Ynet. "People are scared to go out into the streets, everything is closed. You can't even get bread. People are panicking and there are many wounded. When we wanted to leave we couldn't find a car to take us, because everyone is scared to drive."
Mansharov said the majority of those who have not fled are adult men who chose to stay behind and protect their homes and property. "I sent my wife, my two children and my mother-in-law away, but I will stay here until the last Jew leaves," Mansharov said. "Things here are bad, there are many wounded and killed, but even though I am a doctor I'm not in the hospital right now, because we're trying to get all the Jews out. I gave all of them the number of the Jewish Agency, so they could reach them for help."
According to the Agency, there are currently 12,000 Jews in Georgia, most of whom live in the capital. It also said there are still four Jewish families in South Ossetia that no one has been able to contact as of yet. Georgia's communications network in the region has been badly damaged.
Georgian towns in ruins
Russian tanks and troops rumbled into the separatist Georgian province of South Ossetia on Saturday and Russian warplanes bombed a Georgian town - a major surge in border fighting that has killed hundreds of civilians in just two days and left some towns in smoldering ruins.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow sent troops into South Ossetia to force Georgia into a cease-fire and prevent Georgia from retaking control of its breakaway region. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Georgia had effectively lost the right to rule it - an indication Moscow could be preparing to fulfill South Ossetians' wish to be absorbed into Russia.
US President George Bush called for an end to the Russian bombings and an immediate halt to the violence, while Georgia's president said the invasion reflected Russia's belief it could do whatever it wanted to its smaller neighbors.
''This is 100 percent, unprovoked brutal Russian invasion. This is about annihilation of a democracy on their borders,'' Georgia President Mikhail Saakashvili told the BBC. ''We on our own cannot fight with Russia. We want immediate cease-fire, immediate cessation of hostilities, separation of Russia and Georgia and international mediation.''
Medvedev's office said Saturday evening that Russia had not received the Georgian cease-fire proposal.
More than 2,100 people have died in fighting in South Ossetia and Georgia since late on Thursday,
according to combined estimates from the parties involved.
Meanwhile British Defense Secretary Des Browne said a combined delegation of EU, US and NATO officials are travelling to Georgia to seek to broker a ceasefire.
"This evening a delegation of US, EU, OSCE and NATO officials will be going to Georgia to try to broker a ceasefire," he said on Sky television, referring to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
NATO has since denied its representatives would be taking part in any such mission.