Strong shelling and civilian deaths blew expectations for a truce in Karabakh

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The hopes that a Russian-brokered truce between Armenia and Azerbaijan could be held were further broken on Sunday, with both sides accusing the other of heavy bombing in residential areas and worsening two weeks of violent clashes.

Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry said that the bombing of the country’s second-largest city, Ganja, by the night had left seven people dead and 33 injured, including children, less than 24 hours after the end of the fighting had taken place.

Rescuers in red helmets searched through piles of rubble with their bare hands in search of survivors’ signs, an AFP reporter in the city posted.

They gathered up the one almost nude body and put it in a white bag to be carried away in an ambulance as a few horrified people watched and wept.

One witness said they were awakened by a large explosion that flattened a block of one-and two-story houses in the early morning hours, leaving nine apartments destroyed.

“Everything I have struggled for my whole life has been lost,” said resident Zagit Aliyev, 68.

The decision to suspend hostilities to exchange hostages and bodies of people killed after two weeks of conflict over the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region was agreed by the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers at the Russian marathon talks in Moscow.

Eduard Chechyan made movements in the yard of his apartment house, devastated by the shelling of Azerbaijan’s artillery, during a military dispute in Stepanakert.

The truce formally came into effect at noon on Saturday, but the two sides almost immediately accused each other of infringements.

On Sunday, the Ministry of Defense in the breakaway region demanded that the Armenian forces honor the humanitarian truce and, in response, accused Azerbaijan of shelling civilian-populated areas.

The claims that the Armenian forces were responsible for the shelling of Ganja were “an absolute lie,” he added.

The leader of the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, Arayik Harutyunyan, described the situation as “calmer” on Sunday, but cautioned that the truce was precarious.

AFP journalist in the administrative capital of Stepanakert, who has been exposed to heavy bombings since the war erupted and is packed with deep craters and unexploded ordnances, reported hearing loud blasts in the night.

Vahram Poghosyan, the spokesperson for Karabakh’s leader, said that the overnight bombing of Stepanakert was “a failure to respect the agreements reached in Moscow” and called on the international community to recognize the province’s independence as a way to end the fighting.

New fighting broke out late last month, arising from a long-standing feud between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Karabakh.

A man carries a chandelier away from the ruins at the blast site hit by a rocket during the fighting over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the city of Ganja, Azerbaijan October 11, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

The disputed territory is an ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan, home to some 150,000 civilians, who broke the rule of Azerbaijan in the 1990s in a war that killed some 30,000 people.

Its separatist government is closely supported by Armenia, which, like Azerbaijan, achieved independence with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The most recent violence has been the heaviest since the 1990s, with more than 450 people confirmed killed, thousands forced to leave their homes, and concerns that the war could turn into a catastrophic all-out battle.

The restoration of the conflict has given rise to concerns of a full-blown war embroiling Turkey, which firmly supports Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a military deal with Armenia.

Armenia and world leaders, including Russian leader Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron, have criticized the deployment of pro-Turkish fighters from Syria and Libya to support Azerbaijan’s army.

For decades, France, Russia, and the US – known as the “Minsk Party” – have pursued a permanent solution to the Karabakh crisis, but have struggled to avoid intermittent bursts of fighting, and Baku, with Turkey’s backing, seems likely to continue its military involvement.

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