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Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Several dead in missile strikes on Azerbaijani cities

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Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Several dead in missile strikes on Azerbaijani cities

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An Armenian missile strike leveled several residential homes in Azerbaijan’s second city of Ganja on Saturday, Azeri officials said, in the latest escalation in the conflict over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Prosecutor General’s office said two shells hit apartment buildings, killing 12 civilians and wounding more than 40 others.

The missile struck around 3 a.m. local time on Saturday (2100 UTC/GMT Friday). A second missile hit another part of Ganja and a third reached the strategically-placed city of Mingecevir nearby.

AFP cited a witness as saying he saw rescuers pull a small child, two women and four men from the debris in the minutes immediately after the Ganja strike.

“One woman was missing her feet. Someone else was missing an arm at the elbow,” another witness said.

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

Read more: Russia holds Caspian Sea military drills amid Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict

Karabakh capital sees fresh shelling

Saturday’s attacks came hours after Azerbaijani forces shelled Stepanakert, the capital of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia and Azerbaijan each accused the other of launching strikes on each other in the battle for Karabakh, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but populated and governed by ethnic Armenians.

Buildings left in ruins by rocket strike (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

A previous Armenian rocket attack on Sunday destroyed residential buildings in Ganja

The fresh fighting defied hopes of ending the nearly three-week conflict over the enclave, which the two former Soviet Republics have been squabbling over for decades.

A Russian-brokered ceasefire agreed last Saturday to allow the sides to swap detainees and the bodies of those killed now appears to have broken down.

A humanitarian disaster looms with more than half of the 150,000 population of the disputed region having fled their homes.

Read more: Nagorno-Karabakh’s record growth in ruins amid conflict and pandemic

Turkey accused of stoking tensions

The hostilities, close to pipelines in Azerbaijan that carry gas and oil to global markets, are stoking international concern that Turkey and Russia — already at loggerheads over Syria and Libya — will be dragged in.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday blamed Turkey for inflaming the situation by arming the Azeris.

Karte Armenien Aserbaidschan Berg-Karabach EN

Turkey has increased military exports sixfold this year to its close ally. Russia, meanwhile, is close to both sides but has a defense pact with Armenia.

In an interview with WSB radio Atlanta, Pompeo urged a diplomatic resolution, rather than “third-party countries coming in to lend their firepower to what is already a powder keg of a situation.”

In what was seen by some as a warning to Turkey, the Russian navy on Friday launched maneuvers in the Caspian Sea. The Russian military said the drills would involve warships firing missiles at practice targets.

The decades-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict re-erupted on September 27 and has so far killed more than 700 people, including nearly 80 civilians.

mm/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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