Armenian-Backed Forces Hit Base in Second-Largest Azeri City

Armenian-backed forces in the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh enclave said they struck a military airport in Azerbaijan’s second-largest city on Sunday in a major escalation of the fighting between the two South Caucasus neighbors.

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev’s office said the missiles that hit Ganca came from Armenia, which the Armenian Defense Ministry denied. The missile strike caused deaths, Aliyev’s office said, without providing any further details.

Nagorno-Karabakh said it attacked the military airport in Ganca in retaliation for Azerbaijan’s bombing of Stepanakert, the largest city in the enclave. The president of the disputed territory warned that from now on “military objects in large cities of Azerbaijan’s big cities are the target” of its forces.

.#Azerbaijan’i terrorist army targets civilians in #Stepanakert, using Polonez & Smerch MLRS. From now on mil objects in large cities of Azerbaijan are the target of the Defense Army of #Artsakh. Calling on Azerbaijani population to leave these cities to avoid inevitable loss.8:50 AM · Oct 4, 2020

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Azeri Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov described the attack as an “open provocation” by Armenia that “expands the theater of conflict.” Armenia and Azerbaijan on Saturday set seemingly impossible terms for agreeing to cease-fire calls from the U.S., France and Russia.

Aliyev, who is backed by Turkey, has vowed to continue the military campaign until Armenian forces leave Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts that were taken during a war after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. The violence that began a week ago is more intense and widespread than at any time since Russia brokered a 1994 cease-fire to halt the war that killed about 30,000 and displaced more than a million people.

The confrontation adds to tensions between Russia and Turkey over proxy conflicts in Syria and Libya. Russia has an army base in Armenia and the two nations have a mutual-defense pact that doesn’t cover the disputed territory.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday spoke to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and expressed concerns about the ongoing clashes and increasing number of victims, a German government spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. Merkel stressed that all sides must immediately stop fighting and start negotiations, according to the statement.

Azerbaijani forces captured eight villages in the northeast and southeast of Nagorno-Karabkh, after earlier taking control of seven other small localities, the defense ministry in Baku said.

— With assistance by Henry Meyer, and Chris Reiter

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