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Heavy shelling hopes for a Russian-backed ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan


Hopes for a Russian-brokered ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan were further dashed on Sunday. Both sides accused the other of violently shooting in civilian areas and of escalating violent clashes for two weeks.

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said that shelling of the country's second largest city, Ganja, by Armenian forces overnight killed seven people and injured 33, including children, less than 24 hours after fighting ceased to take effect.

Rescuers in red helmets dug through piles of rubble with their bare hands looking for signs of survivors, an AFP journalist in the city reported.

Residential buildings destroyed in a military strike on October 11 in Gyandzha, Azerbaijan

Members of the search and rescue team carry a body as operations continue among the rubble of houses following the alleged long-range missile attacks by the Armenian army on October 11, 2020 in the city of Ganja, Azerbaijan

Members of the search and rescue team carry a body as operations continue among the rubble of houses following the alleged long-range missile attacks by the Armenian army on October 11, 2020 in the city of Ganja, Azerbaijan

Azerbaijani women mourn as search and rescue operations continue in the rubble of houses following the alleged long-range missile attack by the Armenian army on October 11

Azerbaijani women mourn as search and rescue operations continue in the rubble of houses after the alleged long-range missile attack by the Armenian army on October 11

They retrieved a nearly naked body and carefully put it in a white bag to be taken away in an ambulance while several horrified residents watched and cried.

A witness said they were awakened by a massive explosion that leveled an entire square block of one- and two-story houses and destroyed nine apartments in the early hours of the morning.

"Everything I've worked all my life has been destroyed," said 68-year-old Zagit Aliyev.

The agreement to suspend hostilities to exchange prisoners and the bodies of people killed after two weeks of fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region was approved by Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Russia-brokered marathon talks in Moscow.

Rescuers are looking for victims or survivors at the site of the explosion struck by a rocket during the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region in the city of Ganja on Sunday

Rescuers are looking for victims or survivors at the site of the explosion struck by a rocket during the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region in the city of Ganja on Sunday

In Gyandha, Azerbaijan, a soldier stands between residential buildings that were destroyed by a military strike

In Gyandha, Azerbaijan, a soldier stands between residential buildings that were destroyed by a military strike

The ceasefire officially went into effect on Saturday lunchtime, but both sides almost immediately accused each other of the violations.

On Sunday, the Ministry of Defense in the breakaway region insisted that the Armenian armed forces respect the humanitarian ceasefire and accused Azerbaijan of firing on civilian areas.

Allegations that Armenian forces were responsible for shelling ganja are "an absolute lie," he added.

The leader of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, Arayik Harutyunyan, described the situation on Sunday as "calmer" but warned that the ceasefire was precarious.

An AFP journalist in Stepanakert, the administrative capital, who has been exposed to heavy bombing since the fighting broke out and is covered in deep craters and unexploded ordnance, said he heard loud explosions all night.

Vahram Poghosyan, a spokesman for the Karabakh leader, said the nightly shelling of Stepanakert was "a disregard for the agreements reached in Moscow" and called on the international community to recognize the independence of the province as a way to end the fighting.

On October 11, 54-year-old Ashot Aghajanian went to the courtyard of his house in the city of Stepanakert, which was allegedly destroyed by the shelling of the Azerbaijanis last night

On October 11, 54-year-old Ashot Aghajanian went to the courtyard of his house in the city of Stepanakert, which was allegedly destroyed by the shelling of the Azerbaijanis last night

Fighting broke out late last month following a long-simmering disagreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Karabakh.

The disputed area is an ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan that is home to around 150,000 people. Azerbaijan broke off control in a war in the 1990s in which around 30,000 people were killed.

The separatist government is strongly supported by Armenia, which, like Azerbaijan, gained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The most recent fight was the hardest since the war of the 1990s. More than 450 people have been reported dead and thousands have fled their homes, fearing that the fighting could lead to devastating conflict.

Women react as rescuers search for victims or survivors at the site of the explosion struck by a missile during the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh

Women react as rescuers search for victims or survivors at the site of the explosion hit by a missile during the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh

The return of fighting has raised fears of a full-blown war that will affect Turkey, which has strong support for Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a military treaty with Armenia.

Armenia and world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron, have denounced the use of pro-Turkish fighters from Syria and Libya to strengthen the Azerbaijani army.

France, Russia and the US – known as the "Minsk Group" – have searched for a permanent solution to the Karabakh conflict for decades, but have failed to stop sporadic outbreaks of fighting, and Baku seems determined, with Turkey's support to continue its military intervention.

A senior Azerbaijani official said Saturday the ceasefire was "temporary" and Baku had "no intention of retracing its efforts to regain control of Karabakh."