Armenia, Azerbaijan trade fresh accusations of Karabakh shelling

FILE PHOTO: A view shows an Azerbaijani state flag behind the front window of a building, which was damaged by shelling during a military conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in the town of Barda, Azerbaijan October 28, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Karimov reuters_tickers
This content was published on October 31, 2020 - 17:30

By Nvard Hovhannisyan and Nailia Bagirova

YEREVAN/BAKU (Reuters) - Armenia and Azerbaijan once more accused each other of bombing residential areas on Saturday, in defiance of a pact to avoid the deliberate targeting of civilians in and around the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Shelling was reported by both sides within hours of the latest agreement to defuse the conflict, reached after talks in Geneva between the two countries' foreign ministers and envoys from France, Russia and the United States.

The agreement with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group fell short of what would have been a fourth ceasefire since fighting began on Sept. 27. The death toll in the worst fighting in the South Caucasus for more than 25 years has surpassed 1,000 and is possibly much higher.

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians. About 30,000 people were killed in a 1991-94 war in the region.

The Nagorno-Karabakh Emergency and Rescue Service said the central market in Stepanakert, the enclave's largest city, had come under fire and that large parts of it had been burned.

Armenia's defence ministry said several civilians had been wounded in attacks on the city of Shushi, 15 km (9 miles) to the south, while the human rights ombudsman in Nagorno-Karabakh said a civilian in Martuni region had died when a shell hit his home.

Azerbaijan's defence ministry denied these accusations. It said that the regions of Terter, Aghdam and Aghjabedi had come under artillery fire, as had Gubadli, a town between the enclave and the Iranian border that was taken by Azeri troops this week.

Azerbaijan's recent advances on the battlefield, which also extends to seven surrounding regions, have reduced its incentive to strike a lasting peace deal and complicated international efforts to broker a truce.

The conflict has also brought into sharp focus the increased influence of Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan, in a former Soviet region considered by Russia to be within its sphere of influence. Russia also has a security alliance with Armenia.

In response to a request by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to outline the extent of Moscow's support, Russia's Foreign Ministry said it would provide "all assistance required" should the conflict spill onto "the territory of Armenia" - land that is outside the current conflict zone.

Nagorno-Karabakh's army says 1,166 of its soldiers have been killed since Sept. 27. Azerbaijan, which does not disclose its military casualties, updated its civilian death toll to 91. Russia has estimated as many as 5,000 deaths on both sides.

(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova in Baku and Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan; Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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