Azerbaijan and Armenia allege truce violations, accuse each other of shelling

BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – Azerbaijan and Armenia accused each other on Saturday of fresh attacks in violation of a week-old Russian-brokered truce that has failed to halt the worst fighting in the South Caucasus since the 1990s.

Search and rescue teams work on a blast site hit by a rocket during the fighting over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in the city of Ganja, Azerbaijan October 17, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Baku said 13 civilians had been killed and more than 50 wounded in the city of Ganja by an Armenian missile attack, while Yerevan accused Azerbaijan of continued shelling.

The fighting is the worst in the region since Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces went to war in the 1990s over Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory that is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated and governed by ethnic Armenians.

The Azeri Prosecutor General’s office said a residential area in Ganja, the country’s second-largest city and about 25 miles (40 km) from Nagorno-Karabakh, was shelled by missile strikes and around 20 apartment buildings had been hit. Armenia denied the claim and accused the Azeri army of targeting civilian settlements.

Baku also said that an electricity line that goes from Azerbaijan to neighbouring Georgia had been damaged as a result of shelling in the town of Mingachevir.

The European Union said targeting of civilians and civilian installations by either party must stop. “The ceasefire … must be fully respected without delay,” European Commission foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano said in a statement.

Arayik Harutyunyan, the Nagorno-Karabakh leader, said “the intense military actions continued, especially in the southern direction”.

Azerbaijan’s defence ministry reported battles in Aghdere-Aghdam regions, which had been held by ethnic Armenian forces. Prosecutors said one more civilian was wounded as a result of heavy artillery shelling of Aghjabadi region by the Armenian side.

The war of words between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which are aligned with Turkey and Russia respectively, continued alongside the fighting.

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Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said the Azeri army has completely taken over two regions previously held by separatists, Fizuli and Jabrail.

Armenia denied an Azeri claim that it has been illegally bringing in arms and accused Azerbaijan of acting to expand Turkey’s influence in the region and of using pro-Turkish mercenaries – charges both Ankara and Baku deny.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who mediated the ceasefire talks a week ago, talked to his Armenian and Azeri counterparts on the phone and stressed the truce should be observed, the Russian foreign ministry said.

‘LIVING IN FEAR’

In Ganja, rescuers worked at the scene on Saturday morning, picking through rubble, a Reuters photographer said. Some houses had been almost levelled. An excavator was clearing the debris.

“We have been living in fear for days … We are suffering a lot. We would rather die. I wish we were dead but our children would survive,” one resident of the city, 58-year-old Emina Aliyeva, told reporters.

The Armenian defence ministry denied the Azeri claim on shelling cities in Azerbaijan and accused Baku of continuing to shell populated areas inside Nagorno-Karabakh, including Stepanakert, the region’s biggest city.

Nagorno-Karabakh officials said that at least six civilians were wounded as a result of Azeri fire.

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“We woke up at 4 o’clock in the morning due to an awful blow, it was not just a strike, it was something more powerful … We are scared, but we got used to it … Sometimes we felt as if they were hitting directly on us,” Lika Zakaryan, 26-year-old resident of Stepanakert, told Reuters.

A Reuters cameraman in Stepanakert said he had heard several explosions on Friday night and in the early hours of the morning. Shelling continued during the day.

Armenia also said several Azeri drones flew over settlements in Armenia, attacked military installations and damaged the civilian infrastructure.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called attacks “an attempted genocide of the Armenian people”, telling the French newspaper Liberation, “We must defend ourselves, like any nation that is threatened with extermination”.

Baku said on Saturday that 60 Azeri civilians had been killed and 270 wounded since the fighting flared on Sept. 27. Azerbaijan has not disclosed military casualties.

Nagorno-Karabakh says 633 of its military personnel have been killed, and 36 civilians.

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