BAKHARLY: Azerbaijan said on Wednesday it destroyed missile launchers inside Armenia that were targeting its cities, an escalation that threatens to further draw regional powers Russia and Turkey into the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Hundreds have been killed in two weeks of fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the disputed region, and continued clashes have rendered almost meaningless a ceasefire agreed in Moscow last week.

Armenia confirmed that military positions inside the country were 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.

Its foreign ministry later accused Azerbaijan of refusing to implement the ceasefire and — with Turkish support — of trying to “expand” the area of the conflict by attacking Armenia.

Clashes over Nagorno-Karabakh have been largely confined to 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.

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 applies to Armenian territory, not 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.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan conceded Wednesday that separatist fighters had been forced to withdraw from frontline positions in the north and south, describing the situation as “very serious”.

“We must unite to stop the enemy, and achieve Karabakh’s independence,” he said in a televised address to the nation.

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, and on Wednesday Armenia said Azerbaijan had struck a hospital in Karabakh.

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

Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2020