Twelve civilians were killed in the night bombardment of a residential area in Gandja, Azerbaijan’s second largest city, authorities said on Saturday, further escalating the Nagorno Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijanis and Armenian separatists.
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Hours earlier, Azerbaijani airstrikes had targeted the separatist capital, Stepanakert, according to AFP journalists in the city, the majority of whose residents have fled since hostilities began on September 27.
The deadly strike of Friday night on Saturday night on Gandja was followed by a second in another part of the city and then firing aimed at the nearby town of Mingecevir.
These bombings, as well as the fighting on the front line, bear witness to the powerlessness of the international community for three weeks. For a week now, a humanitarian truce agreement negotiated under the aegis of Moscow has never been implemented. Pentagon chief Mark Esper and French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly reiterated the need to end hostilities on Friday evening.
Nagorny Karabakh, mainly populated by Christian Armenians, seceded from Azerbaijan, a Turkish-speaking Shiite, shortly before the breakup of the USSR in 1991, leading to a war that claimed 30,000 lives in the 1990s. -fire, enamelled with clashes, had been in force since 1994.
In Gandja, AFP journalists saw houses destroyed by the missile that struck sleeping residents at around 3:00 am local time (23:00 GMT Friday). According to the Attorney General, “12 civilians were killed, 40 wounded”.
Crying residents fled the scene, some in pajamas and slippers.
“All the houses around have been destroyed. Many people are under the rubble. Some are dead, others are injured, ”laments Rubaba Zhafarova, 65, in front of her destroyed house.
“My wife was there! “
Dozens of rescuers were looking for survivors in the night and with their bare hands, in the rubble. After a few hours, a team dropped black body bags with shredded body parts into an ambulance.
“My wife was over there, my wife was over there,” shouted a man who was led to an ambulance by a medic.
A resident said he saw a child, two women and four men removed from the rubble.
“A woman lost her legs. Someone else has lost an arm, “said Elmir Shirinzaday, 26.
A city of more than 300,000 inhabitants, Gandja has already been struck several times since the start of the conflict, notably on Sunday when a missile killed ten people.
AFP journalists said they also felt a powerful explosion overnight in the nearby town of Mingecevir. The city is protected by an anti-missile system, because it houses a strategic dike. It was not clear whether any missiles were destroyed in flight or whether they hit targets.
On the side of the Armenian separatists, no comment was made on the attack on Gandja, except that the civilian infrastructures of the cities of Stepanakert and Shusha having been targeted by Azerbaijan, “operations to stop the adversary were carried out” , according to the Armenian government’s information center.
Elsewhere on the front lines, fighting continued, with Azerbaijan and Armenia accusing each other of violating the ceasefire.
The Azerbaijani army announced on Saturday morning that it had once again “pierced lines of fortifications in several places” on both the northern and southern fronts, destroying military equipment and weapons and killing “many people”.
Azerbaijan has made territorial gains over the past three weeks without winning a decisive battle. Baku has so far failed to reveal the cost of the conflict, releasing no military, material or human toll, as separatists claim to have killed thousands of men.
Besides a potential humanitarian crisis, the fear is that this conflict will become more international, with Turkey backing Azerbaijan. Armenia, which supports the separatists financially, politically and militarily, is in a military alliance with Russia.