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Nagorno-Karabakh fighting: More casualties reported

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A house is damaged in the fighting at the town of Martuni in Nagorno-Karabakh October 1, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

Dozens have been reported killed as Azerbaijan and Armenia continue fighting in the South Caucasus breakaway region of Karabakh.

Six days after a decades-long territorial dispute prompted the heaviest fighting between Azerbaijan’s military and Armenian-backed forces in years, Baku says it will keep fighting until Armenian forces “fully” withdraw from the region.

The region, internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, has been under Armenian control since the early 1990s.

On Friday, the Armenian-backed forces reported 54 more military casualties, bringing the death toll to 158, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

They said that the fighting was going on all along the front-line after "a relatively calmer night.”

Armenia's defense ministry said Karabakh air defense systems had shot down an Azeri warplane and two drones, an online government platform reported.

An Armenian official said Azerbaijani forces on Friday struck Khankendi, the main city in Karabakh which Armenians call Stepanakert, wounding "many" people.

"There are many wounded among civilian population, civilian infrastructure is damaged," Armenian defense ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan said on Facebook without providing further details.

The separatist government in Khankendi said Azerbaijani forces destroyed a bridge linking Armenia to Karabakh.

The French foreign ministry said two journalists working for the French daily Le Monde who were wounded during a rocket strike in Karabakh were being evacuated. 

Le Monde said Thursday that reporter Allan Kaval and photographer Rafael Yaghobzadeh were injured when Azerbaijani forces fired rockets at the town of Martuni. 

In a statement, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian thanked both his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts during telephone talks for their assistance in evacuating the journalists. 

Azerbaijan said Armenia must withdraw troops from Karabakh to end days of deadly fighting after France, Russia and the United States urged a ceasefire.

"If Armenia wants to see an end of this escalation of the situation... Armenia must end its occupation" of Karabakh, Hikmet Hajiyev, foreign affairs aide to the president of Azerbaijan, told reporters.

Since the violence broke out, both sides have imposed martial law and announced mobilizations of armed forces.  

Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the fighting with his French counterpart President Emmanuel Macron in a telephone conversation, calling on the warring sides to immediately de-escalate tensions.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also voiced “extreme concern,” calling for a “return to meaningful negotiations without delay.”

Turkey, a close ally to Azerbaijan, has blamed Armenia for the eruption of the conflict and promised Azerbaijan its “full support.”

France accused Turkey of making “inconsiderate and dangerous,” statements in support of Azerbaijan.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier this week that France's support for Armenia amounted to backing “occupation” in Azerbaijan.

Russia, however, said it was making progress in diplomatic efforts with Turkey over the conflict.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Cavusoglu had confirmed they were ready for "close coordination" to stabilize the situation.

Pakistan dismisses reports of involvement 

In another development on Friday, Pakistan dismissed reports by Indian media that its army was involved in the fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Earlier this week, some Indian outlets claimed that Pakistani soldiers were fighting alongside Azerbaijani troops against Armenia.

The Pakistan foreign ministry said in a statement that such reports were “irresponsible, speculative and baseless.”

The ministry, however, said that Islamabad “supports Azerbaijan’s position on Nagorno-Karabakh, which is in line with the several unanimously adopted United Nations Security Council resolutions.”

“The intensive shelling by Armenian forces on civilian populations of Azerbaijan is reprehensible and most unfortunate,” it said. 

Armenian separatists seized Karabakh in a move supported by Yerevan after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992.

Some 30,000 people were killed in the conflict that ensued, which ended with a fragile ceasefire in 1994, with about 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory remaining under the control of Armenian forces.

The latest clashes follow a flare-up along the two counties’ border in July, which claimed the lives of 17 soldiers from both sides. In April 2016, some 110 people were killed in the most serious fighting in years.

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