Missile kills 12 in Azerbaijan city, escalating conflict

GANJA (AFP) – A missile strike levelled a row of homes in Azerbaijan’s second city of Ganja yesterday, killing 12 and injuring more than 40 people in their sleep in a sharp escalation of the conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The early hours attack, which saw a second missile strike another part of Ganja and a third reach the nearby strategic city of Mingecevir, came hours after Azerbaijani forces shelled the ethnic Armenian separatist region’s capital Stepanakert.

The seeming tit-for-tat attacks further undermines international efforts to calm a resurgence of fighting between Armenians and Azerbaijanis before it draws in regional powers Russia and Turkey.

An AFP team in Ganja saw rows of houses turned to rubble by the strike, which shattered the walls and ripped the roofs off buildings in the surrounding streets.

People ran outside in shock and tears, stumbling through dark muddy alleys in their slippers, some wearing bathroom robes and pyjamas.

The attack came only six days after a missile struck another residential part of the city of more than 300,000 people, killing 10 civilians and leaving many on edge.

At the scene of the latest strike, exploding shells rumbled in the distance as rescuers and red helmets used sniffer dogs to search for signs on life.

“We were sleeping. The kids were watching TV,” Rubaba Zhafarova, 65, said in front of her destroyed home.

“All the houses around here are destroyed. Many people are under the rubble. Some are dead, some are wounded.”

Hikmat Hajiyev, an assistant to Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, tweeted that according to “initial information, more than 20 houses were destroyed” yesterday.

Soldiers and firefighters search for survivors in a residential area that was hit by rocket fire overnight by Armenian forces in Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second largest city. PHOTO: AP