YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Deadly fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh showed no signs of abating Wednesday despite a U.S.-brokered cease-fire that took force just two days ago and has so far failed to halt the flare-up of a decades-old conflict.
Nagorno-Karabakh officials said Azerbaijani forces hit Stepanakert, the region’s capital, and the nearby town of Shushi with the Smerch long-range multiple rocket systems, a devastating Soviet-designed weapon intended to ravage wide areas with explosives and cluster munitions. One civilian was killed in Shushi and two more were wounded, officials said.
Azerbaijani Defense Ministry rejected the accusations and in turn accused Armenian forces in using the Smerch multiple rocket system to fire at the Azerbaijani towns of Terter and Barda. The strike on Barda killed 14 people and wounded over 40, Azerbaijani authorities said.
Armenian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanian called accusations of striking Barda “groundless and false.”
Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994. By then, Armenian forces not only held Nagorno-Karabakh itself but also captured substantial areas outside the territory’s borders.
The latest fighting, which began Sept. 27, has involved heavy artillery, rockets and drones, in the largest escalation of hostilities over the separatist region in the quarter-century since the war ended. Hundreds, and possibly thousands of people, have been killed in the fighting.
The deadly clashes continued for over a month despite numerous calls for peace and three attempts at establishing a ceasefire. The latest truce began Monday, after talks facilitated by the United States, and came after two failed attempts by Russia to broker a lasting truce. All three cease-fire agreements were immediately challenged by reports of violations from both sides.
According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, 1,068 of their troops and 39 civilians have been killed in the clashes so far, while 122 civilians have been wounded. Azerbaijani authorities haven’t disclosed their military losses, but say the fighting has killed 69 civilians and wounded 322.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that, according to Moscow’s information, the death toll from the fighting was nearing 5,000, significantly higher than what both sides report.
Associated Press writers Daria Litvinova in Moscow and Aida Sultanova in London contributed to this report.
Image: An instructor helps a volunteer soldier practice with a sniper rifle near a front line at a military base during a military conflict in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh is raging, unimpeded by a U.S.-brokered cease-fire, while Armenia and Azerbaijan are trading blame for the deal’s quick unraveling. (AP Photo)