Photo: Reuters
Bombing in Gori, Saturday
Photo: Reuters

Georgian troops pull out of South Ossetian capital

Minister says soldiers leaving area to change their location but remain in South Ossetia, adding pullout will help provide humanitarian corridor to evacuate wounded. Earlier, loud explosions rock Georgia's capital as Russian jets drop three bombs on runway of military aircraft plant near Tbilisi's international airport

Russia expanded its bombing blitz Sunday against neighboring US-allied Georgia, targeting the country's capital for the first time while Georgian troops pulled out of the capital of the contested province of South Ossetia under heavy Russian shelling.


Georgia's Security Council chief Alexander Lomaia said the Georgian troops had to move out of Tskhinvali because of heavy Russian fire.


"Russia further escalated its aggression overnight, using weapons on unprecedented scale. In these conditions our forces conducted redeployment," Lomaia said.


Georgia's Reintegration Minister Temur Yakobashvili said the troops had pulled out under massive Russian shelling to change their location.


Yakobashvili says Georgian troops remained in South Ossetia. He added that the pullout would help provide a humanitarian corridor to evacuate those wounded from Tskhinvali.


The city has been ravaged by fierce battles since Friday when Georgian troops launched an offensive to regain control over South Ossetia.


But Interfax quoted Vladimir Ivanov, an aide to the commander of Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia as saying Georgian forces, artillery and armor remained. "Georgia has not withdrawn forces from South Ossetia," he said.


Meanwhile Sunday, separatist authorities in Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia declared military mobilization. Abkhazia's President Sergei Bagapsh issued a decree putting the region's troops on high alert and mobilizing some reservists.


Bagapsh says Abkhazian troops will move to drive Georgian troops out of the Kodori Gorge in Abkhazia. The northern part of the gorge is the only area of Abkhazia that has remained under Georgian government control.


Russia bombs Tbilisi airfield

Loud explosions rocked Georgia's capital early on Sunday, and a senior official said Russia had bombed a military airfield near Tbilisi's international airport.


"Three bombs were dropped on a military airfield belonging to Tbilaviastroi plant. There were no casualties," Shota Utiashvili, the head of the Georgian Interior Ministry's information department, told Reuters.


Utiashvili said the raid targeted the plant on eastern outskirts of Tbilisi and inflicted some damage to the runways of the plant's airfield.


The plant has been producing Sukhoi Su-25 ground fighters since Soviet days. He corrected his earlier information that Tbilisi's international airport had been the actual target. "There were no planes there, their task was to damage the runway," he added.


"We heard a plane go over and then a big explosion," said Malkhaz Chachanidze, a 41-year old ceramics artist whose house is located just outside the fence of the factory, which has been running since the Soviet era. "It woke us up, everything shook."

Georgian troops, Friday (Photo: Reuters)  


Russian jets have been roaming Georgia's skies since Friday. They raided several air bases and bombed the Black Sea port city of Poti, which has a sizable oil shipment facility.


The Russian warplanes also struck near the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline which carries Caspian crude to the West, but no supply interruptions have been reported.


On Saturday, Georgia's Foreign Ministry said the country was "in a state of war" and accused Russia of beginning a "massive military aggression." The Georgian parliament approved a state of martial law, mobilizing reservists and ordering government authorities to work round-the-clock.


Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that Moscow sent troops into South Ossetia to force Georgia into a cease-fire and prevent Georgia from retaking control of its breakaway region after it launched a major offensive there overnight Friday.


In a meeting with refugees, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin characterized Georgia's actions as "complete genocide," according to his office's Web site. Putin also said Georgia had effectively lost the right to rule the breakaway province — an indication Moscow could be preparing to fulfill South Ossetians' wish to be absorbed into Russia.


The risk of the conflict setting off a wider war also increased Saturday when Russian-supported separatists in another breakaway region, Abkhazia, also targeted Georgian troops by launching air and artillery strikes to drive them out.


US President George W. Bush called for an end to the Russian bombings and an immediate halt to the violence.


"The attacks are occurring in regions of Georgia far from the zone of conflict in South Ossetia. They mark a dangerous escalation in the crisis," Bush said in a statement to reporters while attending the Olympic Games in Beijing.


AP and Reuters contributed to this report


פרסום ראשון: 08.10.08, 07:24
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