Only one of the wounded could be evacuated from the combat zone because of the intensity of the fighting on Tuesday night between Georgian and South Ossetian forces, Rustavi 2 said on Wednesday.

  

Both sides accused each other of trying to storm their positions in the breakaway region.

  

South Ossetia's deputy defence minister Ibragim Gassiyev late on Tuesday said Georgian forces were mounting an assault on a village near the Ossetian capital Tskhinvali, Interfax news agency reported.

  

"Two Georgian armoured units and a large quantity of infantry are attacking the village of Sarabuk" as well as other Ossetian positions nearby, Gassiyev said.

 

Conflicting claims

A group of Georgian troops 
disarmed by South Ossetian rebels

Georgian forces also shelled Tskhinvali, Gassiyev added early on Wednesday.

  

But local head of Georgian police Aleko Sukhitashvili said Ossetian forces were trying to storm a road linking villages populated by ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia to mainland Georgia.

  

"The Ossetians are launching an assault on this road. We are trying to return fire," Sukhitashvili said.   

 

Georgia's Defence Minister Georgi Baramidze said after the fighting on Tuesday there was no way Tbilisi would withdraw its forces from the conflict zone.

 

"After this night's shooting and attacks, there can be no question of any withdrawal of Georgian forces from the zone of conflict," Interfax quoted Baramidze as saying.

  

Third hand

 

Earlier on Tuesday, a Georgian soldier was killed and three others wounded as both Georgian and South Ossetian officials blamed an unnamed "third hand" for stoking the conflict.

 

"There is a well-prepared armed group ... they shoot at positions of both sides, trying to provoke all-out war"

Georgi Baramidze,
Georgia Defence Minister

"There is a well-prepared armed group of about 15-20 people in the conflict zone - the South Ossetian side agrees with this. During the night they shoot at positions of both sides, trying to provoke all-out war," said Baramidze.

  

South Ossetian representative Boris Chochiyev said: "There is a third side that wants war and we must neutralise them together with Russian peacekeepers."

  

Tensions have soared and clashes have repeatedly broken out in the area over the past two months as Georgia has stepped up pressure to bring separatist regions back under its control - turning its attention to separatist Ossetia after winning back semi-autonomous Adjara in June.

  

Inhabited mainly by ethnic Ossetians, South Ossetia has enjoyed de facto independence after an armed conflict with Tbilisi following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.