Azerbaijan and Armenia accused each other on Sunday of having violated a new “humanitarian truce” which entered into force at midnight local time in Nagorno Karabakh, a week after a first ceasefire concluded, but never respected.
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In a statement, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry claimed that Armenian forces had “blatantly broken the new agreement”, denouncing enemy artillery fire and morning attacks along the front line.
Earlier in the night, Armenian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan reported Azerbaijani artillery and rocket fire north and south of the front during the three hours after the start of the truce. .
In a statement, the Karabakh army also made an enemy attack in the morning in the south, reporting “losses and injuries on both sides”. “But civilian infrastructure and homes were not targeted by fire,” said the Karabakh rescue services.
On Saturday evening, the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministries announced, in two identical statements, an agreement for “a humanitarian truce from October 18 at midnight local time”.
In Stepanakert, the separatist capital, the night was very calm, according to an AFP correspondent on the spot. In the morning, everything was silent, as most residents fled the bombardments since the fighting resumed on September 27.
“Our country wants to respect the truce, but the others (Azerbaijanis) will not respect it. We cannot believe them, even if there is an agreement, they can easily not respect it ”, maintains Sveta Petrosian, 65, interviewed in the deserted streets. His two sons are at the front.
Climbing the day before
The resumption of fighting three weeks ago left hundreds of people dead. After a first failed ceasefire attempt under the aegis of Moscow, the conflict escalated again on Saturday.
Azerbaijan has vowed to “avenge” the deaths of thirteen civilians, including children, who perished the night before in a night-time bombardment of Gandja, the country’s second city. Many houses were destroyed by shelling which also left more than 45 injured, according to the attorney general.
This new truce comes as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke by telephone in the evening with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts and insisted on “the need for strict compliance” with the ceasefire concluded last Saturday. in Moscow, according to Russian diplomacy.
French President Emmanuel Macron for his part “welcomed” the humanitarian truce on Saturday evening, adding that the latter had been concluded “following a French mediation” in coordination with the co-chairs of the Minsk group (the United States and Russia).
On Saturday in Gandja, dozens of rescuers searched for survivors with their bare hands and collected shredded human remains in black body bags, making their identification very difficult.
In a speech, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev pledged revenge “on the battlefield”, calling his separatist enemy and Armenia, in turn, “dogs” and “fascists”.
Turkey, for its part, accused Yerevan of “war crimes”, while the EU once again called on “all parties to stop targeting civilians”.
Gandja, a city of about 300,000 inhabitants, has been struck several times since the start of the conflict.
The Armenian separatists had noted Saturday for their part that Gandja shelters “legitimate targets”, evoking an air base and military sites. A few hours before the strikes on Gandja, shots had targeted the towns of Stepanakert and Choucha in Karabakh.
Azerbaijan has achieved territorial gains over the past three weeks without winning a decisive battle. Baku has so far not revealed the cost of the conflict, releasing no military, material or human toll.
The separatists claim to have killed thousands of men, admit having had to back down, but claim to “control the situation”. Officially, they lost around 700 men, and half of the 140,000 inhabitants were displaced.
Besides a potential humanitarian crisis, the international community fears an internationalization of the conflict, Turkey supporting Azerbaijan. Armenia, which financially and militarily supports the separatists, is in a military alliance with Russia.
Nagorny Karabakh, mainly populated by Christian Armenians, seceded from Azerbaijan, a Turkish-speaking Shia Muslim, shortly before the breakup of the USSR in 1991, leading to a war that left 30,000 dead. A ceasefire, punctuated by clashes, had been in effect since 1994.