A missile strike in the early hours of October 17 hit a residential area in Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second largest city, killing six people and demolishing at least one building while people inside were sleeping.
Emergency services joined residents at the scene trying to pull survivors out of the rubble, RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service reported. The homes of at least 20 families were affected.
Hikmet Hajiyev, an aide to Azerbaijan’s president, said on Twitter that in addition to the six people killed, 35 were wounded.
Another missile attack around the same time hit the city of Mingacevir, where a large dam is located, RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service reported. There was no word on damage there.
The strikes came only hours after new clashes were reported between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, marking a new escalation in the conflict over the separatist region.
Each side accused the other of launching fresh attacks despite a Russian-brokered cease-fire that has mostly failed to take hold.
Baku and Yerevan each claimed hard-fought gains in the fighting in and around the territory, which was mostly populated by around 150,000 ethnic Armenians before the flare-up started on September 27.
There are fears that the decades-old conflict could engulf the region in a conflagration involving Azerbaijan’s biggest ally, Turkey, and Russia, which guarantees Armenia’s security under the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on October 15 appeared to send a veiled message to Turkey suggesting it was inflaming a “dangerous” situation by arming and publicly backing Baku’s actions.
“We now have the Turks, who have stepped in and provided resources to Azerbaijan, increasing the risk, increasing the firepower that’s taking place in this historic fight,” Pompeo told an Atlanta radio station.
He called for “negotiation and peaceful discussions…and certainly not…third parties coming in to lend their firepower to what is already a powder keg of a situation.”
Armenia has accused Turkey of encouraging Azerbaijan to try to militarily attack a problem that decades of internationally mediated talks have failed to resolve.
The Armenian Defense Ministry’s Artsrun Hovhannisian said on October 16 that Azerbaijani forces had bombarded Nagorno-Karabakh from the north “with total disregard for the humanitarian truce.”
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said a retreat by ethnic Armenian forces in the territory had left Baku’s troops with an advantage along the Line of Contact that divides the warring sides.
Accusations and counteraccusations are difficult to corroborate in the conflict, which has simmered with occasional low-intensity skirmishes since a cease-fire — but no peace agreement — was signed between the two former Soviet republics in 1994.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but is mostly populated by ethnic Armenians who are backed by Yerevan.
The territory’s de facto leadership reported 29 more deaths on October 16 to increase its death toll from this chapter of fighting to 633.
The Azerbaijani government does not release military casualty figures but before the missile attack on Ganja said 47 civilians had died.
With reporting by AFP