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Georgia Proposes Cease-Fire With Russia

A delegation of U.S. and European diplomats is reportedly heading to the former Soviet republic of Georgia to try to broker a truce in the escalating conflict with Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili has proposed a cease-fire, while accusing Russia of seeking to destroy his country. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says Russia is trying to force the Georgian side to peace.

Georgia launched a major offensive Friday to retake control of South Ossetia. Russia, which has close ties to the province and posts peacekeepers there, responded by sending in armed convoys and military combat aircraft.

Jan Grauls of Belgium, the current president of the U.N. Security Council, says civilians are feeling the brunt of the fighting. He said the humanitarian situation is "deteriorating" and the number of casualties and refugees is quickly rising.

Hundreds of people have been reportedly killed, most of them civilians.

Russian warplanes bombed the Georgian city of Gori on Saturday, hitting at least four residential buildings. The number of casualties is unknown.

The air and artillery bombardment left South Ossetia's capital of Tskhinvali without water, food, electricity and gas. Civilians crawled out of basement hiding places into the streets as fighting eased, looking for supplies.

President Bush pressed Russia and Georgia to immediately end the fighting.

"The United States is working with our European partners to launch international mediation, and with the parties to restart their dialogue. Russia needs to support these efforts so that peace can be restored as quickly as possible," Bush said in Beijing, where he attended the opening ceremony for the Olympics.

It is the worst outbreak of hostilities in the region since the province won de facto independence in a war against Georgia that ended in 1992.

The fighting threatens to ignite a wider war between Russia and Georgia, which accused Russia of bombing its towns, ports and air bases. Georgia, a former Soviet republic with ambitions of joining NATO, has asked the international community to help end what it called Russian aggression.

Also on Saturday, the breakaway province of Abkhazia announced that it was launching a military operation against Georgian forces. Russia maintains a peacekeeping force in the pro-Moscow region on the Black Sea coast.

From NPR and wire service reports.

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