Georgian Jews Flee from Russian Border, Expecting Invasion

Jews living in Gori and elsewhere in South Ossetia are fleeing as all-out war looms. The Jewish Agency and Foreign Office are trying to help.

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Gil Ronen,

South Ossetia
South Ossetia
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Most Jews living near the Georgia-Russia border have fled a Russian invasion, an advocacy group quoted by the JTA said. In a bulletin to its membership Friday, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ) said that according to its contacts, most of the Jewish community in Gori, an area near the conflict zone, have left for the capital Tbilisi.

The Jewish Agency has opened a crisis room that will help track down Jews in Georgia. After Russian jets bombed the city of Gori and oil pipelines in the region, the Foreign Ministry issued a warning against Israelis traveling to the region. Extra staff will be sent to the Israeli embassy in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, to help track down Israelis and Jews in the affected areas. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will hold a special discussion on the situation on Sunday.

Communication with the region was not possible throughout Saturday, officials said. Anyone seeking information on relatives can call the crisis room in Jerusalem at +972-2-6202202.

From 100,000 to 13,000
There are said to be some 200 Jews in Gori. The Jews there are one of the oldest communities in Georgia, tracing their migration into the country during the Babylonian captivity in the 6th century BCE. They have traditionally lived separately, not only from the surrounding Georgian people, but even from the Ashkenazi community in Tbilisi.
Russia broadened its bombing and at least 1,500 people were killed.

The community, which numbered about 100,000 as recently as the 1970s, has largely emigrated to Israel, the United States, the Russian Federation and Belgium. As of 2004, only about 13,000 Georgian Jews remain in Georgia.

Nearing all-out war
The conflict between Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia neared all-out war on Saturday as Russia prepared to land ground troops on Georgia's coast and broadened its bombing campaign both within Georgia and in the disputed territory of Abkhazia. At least 1,500, and perhaps more than 2,000 people, were killed.

The fighting began when Georgian forces tried to retake the capital of the South Ossetia, a pro-Russian region that won de facto autonomy from Georgia in the early 1990s. Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili, declared that Georgia was in a state of war, ordering government offices to work around the clock. He warned that Russia was planning a full-scale invasion of his country and asked for U.S. intervention.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia arrived Saturday evening in Vladikavkaz, a city in southern Russia just over the border that is a military staging area, Russian news agencies reported.

David Shamah contributed to this report.