Peace bid as Ossetia crisis rages
A delegation including envoys from the US, EU and OSCE is heading to Georgia as its conflict with Russia over the breakaway South Ossetia region deepens.
The envoys hope to broker a truce after three days of fighting which are said to have killed or injured hundreds, and sent many others fleeing.
Russian jets have bombed several towns, including Gori in central Georgia.
Russia says it wants Georgian forces to withdraw to the positions they held outside South Ossetia before Thursday.
A Russian air strike on Gori, a Georgian town near South Ossetia, left 60 people dead, many of them civilians, Georgia says.
Russian officials say hundreds of civilians have been killed in South Ossetia. Georgia denies the figure, which cannot be independently verified.
The joint delegation of the US, EU and the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe is due to visit Georgia on Saturday evening.
UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the fighting risked incurring "civilian losses on a large scale".
Emissaries from the US and Europe, all of them Nato members, are hardly likely to be seen as honest brokers by the Kremlin, when it comes to Georgia, BBC's diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall says.
The danger now is that Russia will not only use this crisis to demonstrate its military power in the region, but argue it is time to redraw the map, she adds.
Russian PM Vladimir Putin arrived in Russia's North Ossetia region on his return from the Olympics on Saturday.
He was quoted by Interfax news agency as describing the violence as "genocide".
Earlier, Mr Putin said it was unlikely now that South Ossetia would reintegrate with the rest of Georgia.
This, our diplomatic correspondent says, is precisely the outcome Georgia was trying to avoid.
Russia's ambassador to Nato, Dmitry Rogozin, said there could be no "consultations" with Georgia until Georgian forces returned to their positions and re-established "the status quo".
Accounts differ over who controls South Ossetia's capital, with Moscow saying it has "liberated" Tskhinvali.
The crisis began spiralling when Georgian forces launched a surprise attack on Thursday night to regain control of South Ossetia, which has had de facto independence since the end of a civil war in 1992.
The move followed days of exchanges of heavy fire with the Russian-backed separatists.
In response to the Georgian crackdown, Moscow sent armoured units across the border into South Ossetia.
The Georgian parliament has approved a presidential decree declaring that the country is in a state of war for 15 days.
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has denounced Russian reports of a high civilian death toll from his forces as an "egregious lie".
Mr Saakashvili said he had decided to declare that Georgia was in a state of war because it was "under a state of total [Russian] military aggression".
Georgia is withdrawing its entire contingent of 2,000 troops from Iraq to help deal with the crisis.
US President George W Bush said the Russian attacks outside South Ossetia marked a "dangerous escalation in the crisis" and said Georgia's territorial integrity had to be respected.
"The attacks are occurring in regions of Georgia far from the zone of conflict in South Ossetia," he said while attending the Olympics.
"The violence is endangering regional peace."
Fighting continued around Tskhinvali overnight and into Saturday morning, although not at the same intensity as on Friday, Russian media reported.
Later, the Russian Army's Ground Forces commander, Gen Vladimir Boldyrev, said his troops had "fully liberated" the city and were pushing Georgian forces back.
But the secretary of the Georgian National Security Council, Khakha Lomaia, insisted that the city remained "under the complete control of our troops".
Russian commanders, who said reinforcements were being sent to the region, confirmed that two Russian jets had been shot down over Georgia.
Speaking to Russian news agency Interfax, Russia's ambassador to Georgia, Vyacheslav Kovalenko, said on Saturday that 2,000 civilians and 13 Russian peacekeepers had been killed in Tskhinvali.
"The city of Tskhinvali no longer exists," he said. "It is gone. The Georgian military has destroyed it."
The International Red Cross (ICRC) said it had received reports that hospitals in the city were "overflowing" with casualties.
In Gori, Russian aircraft bombed mostly military targets, where Georgian troops had been massing to support their forces engaged in South Ossetia.
The BBC's Richard Galpin in Gori heard loud explosions and saw large plumes of smoke rising into the sky; soldiers and civilians were seen running through the streets.
Injured civilians were being pulled from the buildings, which were on fire.
The Georgian foreign ministry said the Black Sea port of Poti, the site of a major oil shipment facility, had been "devastated" by a Russian air raid.
Meanwhile Georgian TV reported that the Georgian-controlled section of the Kodori Gorge in Abkhazia was under fire, blaming the bombardment on Russian forces.
The foreign minister in Abkhazia's self-declared government, Sergei Shamba, said Abkhaz forces had launched an attack aimed at driving Georgian forces out of the gorge.
It was not clear whether planes used in the attack on the gorge belonged to Russia or to the Abkhaz separatists.
Russia has a peacekeeping force in Abkhazia under an agreement made following civil wars in the 1990s, when the region declared independence and formed links with Moscow.