Azerbaijan and Armenia engaged in heavy fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region on Monday, with both countries ignoring a renewed truce that was meant to come into effect at the weekend.
The truce was agreed on Saturday after a similar deal brokered by Russia a week earlier failed to halt the worst fighting in the South Caucasus since the 1990s.
In both instances, Armenia and Azerbaijan accused one another of breaking the truce within hours of agreed deadlines.
On Monday, ethnic Armenian officials in Nagorno-Karabakh said Azeri forces were shelling their positions in northern and southern areas of the line of contact that divides them.
They recorded another 19 casualties among their troops, pushing the military death toll to 729 since fighting with Azeri forces erupted on September 27; 36 ethnic Armenian civilians have died.
Azerbaijan does not disclose its military casualties; 60 Azeri civilians had so far died.
The Azeri defence ministry said Armenian forces had shelled its positions in the Garanboy, Terter and Aghdam regions of Azerbaijan overnight and said the Agjebedin region was being shelled on Monday morning.
The reports could not immediately be verified.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev accused Armenian forces of violating the truce, and said in a Twitter post there were “dead and wounded due to these heinous actions”.
More than 1,000 people have been killed since fighting began on September 27, including hundreds of soldiers and dozens of civilians.
Nagorno-Karabakh is inside Azerbaijan but has been controlled by Armenia-backed troops for more than 25 years.
The failure to halt renewed fighting has raised fears of all-out war and humanitarian crisis, while the conflict puts fresh strain on ties between Turkey, which strongly backs Azerbaijan, and its Western allies in NATO.
While Turkey has called for a ceasefire, countries such as France and Germany have criticised Ankara for its fervent and vocal support of Baku in the fight.
Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia and sells weapons to both rival countries, could also be at risk of being embroiled into a regional war.
During the night, the Armenian armed forces had subjected the #Goranboy, #Terter, and #Aghdam regions to mortar and artillery fire.
Since this morning, #Aghjabedi region has been under fire.#StopArmenianOccupation #StopArmenianTerror#ArmenianTerrorism #KarabakhisAzerbaijan
— Azerbaijan MOD (@wwwmodgovaz) October 19, 2020
The first truce brokered in Moscow earlier this month was aimed at letting the sides swap detainees and bodies of those killed in the clashes, but it had little effect on the fighting around the enclave.
The latest truce was announced after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talked to his Armenian and Azeri counterparts by telephone and called on sides to observe the truce that he mediated a week ago.
On morning of Oct 18, Azerbaijani armed forces launched large-scale attack on southern front. This is second ceasefire agreement that #Azerbaijan does not want or is unable to implement, at the same time manipulating intl community & first & foremost @OSCE MGCC countries. pic.twitter.com/2a7EuwhSoL
— MFA of Armenia🇦🇲 (@MFAofArmenia) October 19, 2020
Russia, France and the United States jointly chair a body called the Minsk Group, which has attempted to help resolve the conflict under the umbrella of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
UN chief Antonio Guterres on Sunday called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to “fully abide” by the new truce, his spokesman said.