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Nagorno-Karabakh: Deadly fighting spills into fifth day

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Heavy shelling between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces has been reported around the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region as fighting raged for a fifth day, with both sides refusing to back down and heed international calls for talks.

The fiercest clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in years over the breakaway region were ignited on Sunday, leaving scores from both sides dead.

Azerbaijan’s general prosecutor’s office said on Thursday that Armenian shelling killed a civilian in its city of Terter, about 90km from Nagorno-Karabakh, in the morning and badly damaged the train station there.

Separately, the country’s defence ministry said its forces had carried out “crushing artillery strikes against Armenian forces’ positions in the occupied territories”, throughout the night.

In the city of Stepanakert in Nagorno-Karabakh, known also as Khankendi, two explosions were heard around midnight as sirens sounded, the AFP news agency reported, adding that residents claimed the city had been attacked by drones.

Ethnic-Armenian officials in the region described the overnight situation along the front line as “tense” and said both sides exchanged artillery fire.

“The enemy attempted to regroup its troops, but Armenian forces suppressed all such attempts,” they said.

Armenian authorities also claimed that two French nationals working as journalists for Le Monde were injured on Thursday during shelling by Azeri forces in the Armenian town of Martuni, west of the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The reporters were being taking to hospital, authorities said in a statement.

Late on Thursday, Armenia President said the country’s air defence forces downed four drones in the provinces near Yerevan.

Armenia also recalled its ambassador to Israel for consultations over Israeli arms sales to Azerbaijan.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s declaration of independence from Azerbaijan sparked a war in the early 1990s that killed 30,000 people, but it is still not recognised as independent by any country, including Armenia.

Armenia and the breakaway region declared martial law and military mobilisation last week, while Azerbaijan imposed military rule and a curfew in large cities.

Talks to resolve the conflict have largely stalled since a 1994 ceasefire agreement. France, Russia and the United States have mediated peace efforts as the “Minsk Group”, but the last big push for a peace deal collapsed in 2010.

The two sides claim to have inflicted heavy losses on opposing forces in the conflict that carries the threat of drawing in regional powers Turkey and Russia, which support opposing sides.

Yerevan, which is in a military alliance of former Soviet countries led by Moscow, has accused Turkey of dispatching mercenaries from northern Syria to bolster Azerbaijan’s forces in the conflict, adding it was concerned that members of illegal armed groups, including from Syria and Libya, were being deployed to the fight. The claims were refuted by Azerbaijan.

Yerevan also said earlier this week that a Turkish F-16 flying in support of Baku’s forces had downed an Armenian SU-25 warplane, but Ankara and Baku denied the claim.

Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from the Armenian capital, said that there were fears that the clashes could lead to full-scale war.

“There have been already clashes beyond Nagorno-Karabakh, in the border areas between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Smith said.

Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify the claims made by both sides.

Despite mounting international pressure, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev have both rejected the idea of holding talks, even as calls for a halt in the fighting mount.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, in a telephone conversation late on Wednesday, issued the most recent call for a complete halt to fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh and said they were ready to intensify diplomatic efforts to help resolve the conflict.

Source: Al Jazeera

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