Cities Under Fire as Armenia-Azerbaijan Fighting Intensifies

Stepanakert, Azerbaijan, Oct 4 (AFP/APP): Armenian and Azerbaijani forces exchanged heavy rocket and artillery fire as fighting intensified over Nagorno-Karabakh on Sunday, with the breakaway region’s capital and Azerbaijan’s second-largest city hit.

Armenia said that Nagorno-Karabakh’s main city Stepanakert, which has been under shelling since Friday, was hit again on Sunday and AFP journalists said there were regular explosions and clouds of black smoke rising in parts of the city. Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said Ganja, a city of more than 330,000 in western Azerbaijan, also came under fire, while Armenian-backed separatist forces claimed to have destroyed an airbase there.

The two sides accused each other of targeting civilian areas, as the conflict widened a week after heavy fighting broke out in the decades-old dispute over the ethnic-Armenian region. Armenia and Azerbaijan have resisted international calls for a ceasefire and clashes have intensified in recent days, with both sides claiming victories on the front and saying they are inflicting heavy losses.

Sirens were sounding and explosions were heard at regular intervals in Stepanakert, where residents were taking shelter including several families in the basement of the city’s Holy Mother of God Cathedral. Sheltering with them, military chaplain Gor Yurjan said he had just returned from the front. “I am very worried that they are firing on civilians”, the 28-year-old told AFP.

Armenia’s foreign ministry said Stepanakert and other towns had been hit, accusing Azerbaijani forces of “the deliberate targeting of the civilian population”. There were reports of dead and wounded civilians in Stepanakert and the historic town of Shusha. Azerbaijan said Ganja was under fire, including from areas outside of Karabakh, with at least one civilian killed. “Armenian forces struck Ganja with rockets from Armenian territory”, said Hikmet Hajiyev, an advisor to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.

He said Armenian forces had also used heavy artillery and rockets against the Azerbaijan towns of Terter and Goradiz.

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