Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed to a “humanitarian ceasefire” in the conflict over the contested enclave of Nagorno Karabakh on Saturday — one week after truce brokered by Russia fell apart, according to a statement from the foreign ministries of both countries.
The new agreement — set to start at midnight local time (4 p.m. ET Saturday) — was announced after both sides earlier in the day accused each other of attacks that violated the Moscow-brokered, week-old peace deal.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talked to his Azerbaijani and Armenian counterparts on the phone Saturday to emphasized the need for the truce to hold, according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry.
Arayik Harutyunyan, leader of the contested region, welcomed the new peace effort, saying in a statement, “The Republic of Artsakh confirms readiness to observe the humanitarian truce on a reciprocal basis,” in line with the ceasefire agreements brokered by Moscow on Saturday and one week ago.
Nagorno Karabakh is called Artsakh by Armenians.
Before the latest ceasefire attempt Saturday, Azerbaijan accused Armenia of a rocket attack against its second-largest city, Ganja, killing at least 13 civilians — including three children — and wounding more than 50 others.
Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev called the missile strike a “cowardly shelling” that “cannot break the will of the Azerbaijani people.”
The attack occurred in the early hours of Saturday morning and targeted civilian quarters in the central part of the city, according to a statement from the Azerbaijani prosecutor’s office.
Azerbaijani presidential adviser Hikmet Hajiyev accused Armenia of using ballistic missiles in the attack and said authorities had evidence to support the claim, according to a Twitter post.
“Let the international community see the barbaric acts of Armenia against civilians,” Hajiyev added.
Azerbaijan had the upper hand in clashes
While authorities in Azerbaijan and Armenia have denied targeting civilians, residential areas have increasingly come under shelling amid the hostilities.
Stepanakert, the regional capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, came under intense shelling overnight, leaving three civilians wounded, according to separatist authorities.
Aliyev announced that Azerbaijani forces have taken the town of Fizuli and seven villages around it, gaining a “strategic edge.” Fizuli is one of the seven Azerbaijani regions outside Nagorno-Karabakh that was seized by the Armenian forces during the war in the early 1990s.
Azerbaijani authorities said 60 civilians have been killed and 270 have been wounded since Sept. 27, but they haven’t revealed military losses. Separatist authorities said over 600 Nagorno-Karabakh soldiers and 36 civilians have been killed.
Azerbaijan has insisted it has the right to reclaim its land by force after efforts by the so-called Minsk group of international mediators that comprises Russia, the United States and France failed to yield any progress after nearly three decades. Azerbaijan has actively pushed for its ally Turkey to take a prominent role in future peace talks.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar spoke on the phone with his Azerbaijani counterpart, congratulating Azerbaijan on “liberating Fizuli from the occupation” and downing Armenian jets.
Drones and rocket systems supplied by Turkey have given the Azerbaijani military an edge on the battlefield, helping them outgun the Armenian forces that rely mostly on outdated Soviet-era weapons.
Will the case fire hold?
According to AFP, armed Turkish drones are causing substantial damage to Armenian military forces.
“The red mulberry trees meant to conceal them were not enough: Azerbaijani night-time drone strikes destroyed seven artillery guns in a field in Karmir Shuka, in southeast Nagorno Karabakh.
Armenian separatists had towed the guns down off the road, around 20 or 10 metres (yards) from each other, hooked up to trucks, their barrels down, out of firing position.
But the pinpoint strikes at 2:00 am on Friday picked them off.
“We were not in an offensive action,” said Onik Mnatsakanian, a major with the Armenian army deployed in the self-proclaimed republic of Nagorno Karabakh.
“We were deployed and waiting, but we were attacked,” he told AFP journalists.
The Azerbaijani strikes, powerful and accurate, reduced the trucks to piles of scrap metal.
Everything around the vehicles in a five-meter radius was incinerated, but no one was killed or even injured — because they quickly got their soldiers out of harm’s way when they heard the approaching drones, said Mnatsakanian”.
Thus Armenia my have agreed to the cease fire to avoid further losses of territory and to reorder its defensive lines. Whether the cease fire will hold remains an open question. It probably depends on the outcome of the hectic phone traffic between Moscow and Ankara. Ankara may demand better Russian cooperation in Idlib, Syria and in Libya, before it urges ally Azerbaijan to call it a day.
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