Azerbaijan, Armenia report shelling of cities despite truce

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Azerbaijan accused Armenia of attacking large cities overnight in violation of the ceasefire deal brokered by Russia sought to end the worst outbreak of hostilities in the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The Azerbaijani authorities said yesterday nine civilians were killed and over 30 wounded after Armenian forces fired missiles overnight on Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second-largest city, and hit a residential building. According to Azerbaijan’s Prosecutor General’s office, the city of Mingachevir also came under missile attacks early yesterday.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s military officials yesterday denied attacking Ganja and said the territory’s army is observing the ceasefire. They added that Azerbaijani forces shelled Stepanakert, the region’s capital, and other towns during the night in violation of the truce.

The recent bout of fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces started on September 27 and left hundreds of people dead in the biggest escalation of the decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh since a separatist war there ended in 1994. The region lies in Azerbaijan but has been under control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia.

The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a truce in Moscow after Russian President Vladimir Putin brokered it in a series of calls with President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.

ABOVE & BELOW: A man walks past a damaged building in a residential area in Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second largest city, near the border with Armenia, after rocket fire by Armenian forces; and Azerbaijani soldiers and firefighters search for survivors in a residential area in Ganja. PHOTOS: AP

The ceasefire deal was announced in early on Saturday, after 10 hours of talks in the Russian capital sponsored by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and took effect at noon on Saturday.

The deal stipulated that the ceasefire should pave the way for talks on settling the conflict.

If the truce had held, it would mark a major diplomatic coup for Russia, which has a security pact with Armenia but also cultivated warm ties with Azerbaijan.

However, minutes after the ceasefire took force, both sides accused each other of continuing attacks in violation of the deal.

The situation in the region was “relatively calm” yesterday morning, according to Nagorno-Karabakh leader Arayik Harutyunyan, with only minor hostilities along the frontline. But it was unclear whether the calm would last, he said.

“There is no shelling of our towns and villages. At the frontline, there is some shooting with the use of artillery. There are some skirmishes on the border,” Harutyunyan said. “Since the morning it seems calm, but within minutes the situation can change.”