Azerbaijan strikes inside Armenia as Karabakh fighting widens

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FILE - In this Oct. 13, 2020, file photo, a person stands in a cultural center destroyed by shelling during a military conflict, in Shushi, outside Stepanakert, the capital of the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh. A Russian attempt to broker a cease-fire to end the worst outbreak of hostilities over Nagorno-Karabakh in more than a quarter-century has failed to get any traction, with Azerbaijan and Armenia trading blame for new attacks. (AP Photo/File)

Azerbaijan said on Wednesday it had destroyed missile launchers inside Armenia that were targetting its cities, as fierce fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh risked widening beyond the disputed region.

Hundreds have already lost their lives in two weeks of fighting, and continued clashes have rendered almost meaningless a humanitarian ceasefire agreed in Moscow last week.

Armenia confirmed that military positions inside the country had been hit but denied its forces had been firing into Azerbaijan. It warned that it too could start targeting military sites inside its adversary’s territory.

Clashes over Nagorno-Karabakh — where Armenia-backed separatist fighters are battling Azerbaijani forces — have been largely confined to areas in and around the region since a fresh outbreak of fighting started last month.

Direct confrontations between Armenia and Azerbaijan risk spiralling into an all-out, multi-front war with devastating consequences for both sides.

Moscow has so far refused to become drawn into the conflict — even though Armenia is part of a regional Russia-led security group — noting that the organisation’s treaty does not apply to Karabakh.

Overwhelmingly populated by Armenians, Nagorno-Karabakh has been controlled by Armenians since a 1990s war that erupted as the Soviet Union fell.

Azerbaijan has never hidden its desire to win back control and no state has recognised Nagorno-Karabakh’s declaration of independence.

The latest fighting, which erupted on September 27, has been the most intense since a 1994 ceasefire, claiming more than 600 lives, including more than 70 civilians, according to a tally based on partial tolls from both sides.

Each side has accused the other of targeting civilian areas with shelling, missile and rocket attacks.

Thuds of shelling

Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said in statements on Wednesday that it had destroyed ballistic missile launchers deployed in Armenia in two separate attacks overnight.

The OTR-21 Tochka mobile systems were in areas of Armenia bordering the Kalbajar district of Azerbaijan that is under separatist control, it said.

Launchers at the first site were aiming at the Azerbaijani cities of Ganja, Mingachevir and other populated areas, it said.

Armenian defence ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan confirmed that military positions in the area had been hit. But she denied that Armenian forces had ever fired “a single missile, shell or projectile” inside Azerbaijan.

Armenia’s military now “reserves the right to target any military installations and combat movements on the territory of Azerbaijan”, she said on Twitter.