Clashes between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces rumbled for a second day, despite Baku announcing a ceasefire after the worst outbreak of violence in decades over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region sparked international pressure to stop fighting.
Azerbaijan said on Sunday it had decided to “unilaterally cease hostilities” and pledged to “reinforce” several strategic positions it claimed to have captured inside the Armenian-controlled territory.
The Armenia-backed authorities in Karabakh – which claims independence but is heavily backed by Yerevan – said they were willing to discuss a ceasefire but only if it saw them regain their territory.
Both sides accused each other of continuing to fire across the volatile frontline that has divided them since a war in which Armenian separatists seized the region from Azerbaijan ended with an inconclusive truce in 1994.
“Armenia has violated all the norms of international law. We won’t abandon our principal position. But at the same time we will observe the ceasefire and after that we will try to solve the conflict peacefully,” President Ilham Aliyev said at a security council meeting broadcast by Azeri state TV.
An AFP news agency photographer in the Azerbaijani town of Terter – around 10 kilometres (six miles) from the frontline – reported hearing sporadic shooting on Sunday afternoon.
Men carried a coffin draped in Azerbaijan’s flag through the streets as the funeral of an Azeri soldier killed in the clashes was held. At least three houses were destroyed by shelling and women and children had been evacuated.
Fierce clashes left at least 18 Armenian and 12 Azerbaijani soldiers dead on Saturday after the two sides accused each other of attacking with heavy weaponry across the volatile frontline.
The Karabakh authorities said one boy was killed in the fighting, while Azerbaijan said two civilians died and 10 were wounded.
Armenia’s President Serzh Sarkisian called the clashes the “largest-scale hostilities” since a 1994 truce ended a war in which Armenian-backed fighters seized the territory from Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan said one of its helicopters was shot down as its forces took control of several strategic heights and a village in Armenian-controlled territory.
Karabakh forces on Sunday claimed they took back the strategic Lala-Tepe height in Karabakh which was captured by Azeri troops on Saturday.
Baku denied the report, saying that the height remained under its control and that rebel troops sustained “serious manpower losses”.
Appeals for calm
Both Russia and the West appealed to all sides to show restraint, with key regional power broker President Vladimir Putin calling Saturday for an “immediate ceasefire”.
Moscow has supplied weaponry to both sides in the conflict, but has much closer military and economic ties to Armenia and Yerevan is reliant on Russia’s backing.
US Secretary of State John Kerry urged the arch foes to return to peace talks under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), reiterating “there is no military solution to the conflict”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, vowed to back traditional ally Azerbaijan “to the end” in the conflict.
Ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan seized control of the mountainous Nagorny Karabakh region in an early 1990s war that claimed some 30,000 lives. The foes have never signed a peace deal despite the 1994 ceasefire.