As Armenia and Azerbaijan continue their clash over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region for a second week, both countries have blamed each other for targeting important cities and endangering the lives of civilians.
Fighting spilled into a ninth day on Monday, with the two rivals ignoring growing international calls for a ceasefire and as Azerbaijan stressed that Turkey must be involved in any moves to end the conflict.
Armenia’s government-run information centre released footage purportedly showing artillery attacks by Azeri forces on Sunday in the city of Stepanakert.
Armenian authorities claimed civilian casualties as a result of Sunday’s attack.
The video shows severely damaged buildings, including an apartment block, and a street covered in debris.
Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith left Stepanakert on Sunday night due to “intense bombardment”, which he said killed five civilians.
“We are told by people still in Stepanakert that the bombardment has [re]started this morning,” he said, reporting from the Armenian town of Goris.
Armenia’s ministry of defence tweeted that Azeri forces had fired rockets at Stepanakert and Shushi “with great intensity”.
“Fierce fighting engagements are ongoing,” the ministry tweeted on Monday.
Anna Naghdalyan, spokeswoman for Armenia’s ministry of foreign affairs, said on Monday that Stepanakert is being “continuously attacked by Azerbaijani armed forces with cluster munitions”.
Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said Armenian forces were shelling three of its towns – Beylagan, Barda, and Terter – after hitting Ganja and Mingecevir, the country’s second and fourth-largest cities respectively, on Sunday.
Hikmet Hajiyev, head of Azerbaijan’s Foreign Policy Affairs Department, tweeted that four Tochka ballistic missiles had been launched at Mingecevir, which has a population of more than 100,000 and is located 100km (62 miles) from Armenia’s border.
Proof of Armenia's delibarate and targeted attack against critical civilian infrastructure of Azerbaijan. #Missile landed in close proximity of energy block in #Mingachevir. But did not explode. Peace enforcement must continue to bring #Armenia to its senses and responsibility. pic.twitter.com/QlyVuLLnXB
— Hikmet Hajiyev (@HikmetHajiyev) October 4, 2020
However, Shushan Stepanyan, press secretary for Armenia’s defence ministry, dismissed Azerbaijan’s accusations that Armenia was targeting Mingecevir as false.
“No fire was opened from Armenia,” Stepanyan tweeted. “This is the desperate convulsions of the Azerbaijani side.”
The MoD of Armenia officially informs that the statements of the leadership of #Azerbaijan about an alleged attack from the territory of Armenia against Mingechaur is false. No fire was opened from #Armenia. This is the desperate convulsions of the #Azerbaijani side.
— Shushan Stepanyan (@ShStepanyan) October 4, 2020
Reporting from Mingecevir, Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu said she witnessed three missiles falling.
“Two of them hit close to the hydroelectric power plant,” she said. “One other hit the city centre and the fourth hit close by a maternity [unit] where a building was damaged and two civilians were injured.”
Mingecevir’s hydroelectric plant supplies electricity to the entire country, and the city also has a large water reservoir which Koseoglu said Armenia had threatened to target.
“If the water reservoir is hit, 14 cities of Azerbaijan would be flooded,” she said.
“The Azeris are saying the concept of the conflict is transforming into another one where long-range missiles are involved and crowded cities and strategic destinations are targeted, which would have more catastrophic outcomes if the missiles hit their targets,” she continued.
The International Committee of the Red Cross on Sunday condemned reports of “indiscriminate shelling and other alleged unlawful attacks using explosive weaponry in cities, towns and other populated areas”.
The latest clashes erupted on September 27 and have killed dozens, marking the biggest escalation in years in a decades-old conflict over the region, which lies within Azerbaijan but is controlled by local ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia.
In a fiery address to the nation on Sunday, Azerbaijani President Aliyev set several stiff conditions for a ceasefire.
He said Armenian forces “must leave our territories, not in words but in deeds”, provide a timetable for a full withdrawal, apologise to the Azerbaijani people and recognise the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.
Yerevan rejected Aliyev’s demands.
Karabakh’s presidency threatened to “expand subsequent (military) actions to the entire territory of Azerbaijan”.
Armenian sources have put the death toll from fighting in the region – home to about 145,000 people – at more than 200, while Azerbaijan most recently said that 19 civilians have been killed and 60 injured.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday called for an “immediate” ceasefire, according to the Kremlin.
Putin discussed the conflict which has lead to “serious casualties” with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and called for the ceasefire, the Kremlin said.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg added his voice to calls for an immediate end to the clashes over Nagorno-Karabakh.
“There is no military solution,” Stoltenberg said during a visit to Turkey, calling for a truce.
Ankara is Baku’s strongest ally, and has thrown its support behind Azerbaijan in the fight.
Aliyev said in an interview with Turkish state broadcaster TRT Haber on Monday that Ankara must be involved in any moves to end the conflict.
Armenian Defence Ministry official Artsrun Hovhannisyan said: “I don’t think that there is any risk for Yerevan (the Armenian capital), but anyway we are in war.”
Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia, also supplies weapons to Azerbaijan. Moscow has expressed concerns about the rising number of civilian victims.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called for a ceasefire as soon as possible in a telephone call with his Armenian counterpart Zohrab Mnatsakanyan on Sunday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also demanded an immediate end to all fighting during a phone call with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Azerbaijan and Armenia previously fought a war over Nagorno-Karabakh in the late 1980s and early 1990s as they transitioned into independent countries amid the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The war, which ended with a fragile peace treaty in 1994, is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of people, including more than a thousand civilians.