Violent battles broke out Tuesday between Armenian separatist forces in Nagorno Karabakh and the Azerbaijani army, in disregard for the humanitarian truce, angering the Red Cross, which considers that “hundreds of thousands” of people have been affected by the conflict.
As has been the case since the start of the fighting on September 27, the two sides share responsibility for the hostilities, which resulted in about 600 deaths, including 67 civilians, according to a partial census.
Azerbaijan did not announce any deaths among its forces.
For the fourth day in a row, and despite calls from Moscow and Western countries, the ceasefire negotiated in Russia and was supposed to come into force since Saturday, remained ink on paper.
“Today, after two weeks of violent battles that unfortunately are still intensifying… we see that there are hundreds of thousands of people affected in the region,” Martin Schweb, director of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the Eurasia region, said in a statement.
He notes that talks are still ongoing in order to reach an exchange of bodies and prisoners between the two parties, which is one of the goals of the truce that was not implemented.
The separatist militants in Nagorno Karabakh accused the Azerbaijani army of launching a tripartite attack in the south, north and northeast of the region declared unilaterally.
For its part, Baku confirmed that it “respects the ceasefire,” but the Armenian separatists fired on the Azerbaijani regions of Goranboy, Tartar and Agdam.
It seems that Azerbaijan has taken control of some lands during more than two weeks of battles, without being able to make much progress against the separatists who control the mountains.
“Azerbaijan has recorded some military achievements, but Baku is far from controlling Karabakh,” said the expert at the Georgian Center for Strategic Analysis Gila Vasadze, referring to “a diplomatic and military deadlock”.
In the regions of Tartar (Northern Front), an AFP team saw Azerbaijani forces bomb the mountains where Armenian forces are firing into the area.
From Stepanakert, the capital of the breakaway region, artillery shelling could also be seen on the southern front.
The Nagorno Karabakh region, which has an Armenian majority, split from Azerbaijan after a war that left 30,000 people dead in the 1990s.
The battles currently underway are the most dangerous since the ceasefire declared in 1994.
After thirty years of diplomatic stalemate, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev pledged to regain control of the region.
The two sides exchange charges of deliberately targeting civilian areas, committing war crimes and using cluster bombs, which are prohibited weapons.
In Gandja, the second city of Azerbaijan where a building was destroyed, killing ten people on Sunday, a number of residents were laying red roses and stuffed toys near the rubble.
In addition to the possibility of a humanitarian crisis, the international community fears the internationalization of this conflict, as Ankara encourages Baku to attack and Moscow is committed to a military treaty with Yerevan.
Turkey is accused of sending fighters loyal to it from Syria to fight alongside the Azerbaijanis, which Baku denies.
However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that 119 Syrian militants loyal to Ankara have been killed, at least since the beginning of the confrontations, out of 1,450 deployed in Karabakh.
For his part, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Tuesday on Armenia and Azerbaijan to “respect their commitment to the ceasefire” in Karabakh and “to stop targeting populated areas”.
“We condemn the fall of lives, and we remain determined to encourage a peaceful solution,” he said.
So far, Armenia and Azerbaijan have avoided a direct armed confrontation, outside Karabakh.
In a related context, the outbreak of the new Coronavirus in the region has become of concern to the World Health Organization, which has recorded a sharp increase in the number of cases of the disease.
A spokesman for the organization, Tariq Jasarevic, said at a press conference in Geneva, “The mobilization of forces and the movement of people, all of this helps spread the virus”.