A missile strike has leveled a row of homes in Azerbaijan’s second largest city of Ganja, killing at least 13 and injuring more than 40 people in their sleep in a sharp escalation of the conflict over Karabakh.
The Azeri Prosecutor General’s office said the assault took place in the early hours of Saturday as two missiles hit apartment buildings in central Ganja, causing severe damage.
AFP said its team in Ganja had seen rows of houses turned to rubble by the strike, which shattered the walls and ripped the roofs off buildings in the surrounding streets.
“People ran outside in shock and tears, stumbling through dark muddy alleys in their slippers, some wearing bathroom robes and pyjamas,” it reported.
Azerbaijan’s presidential aide, Hikmet Hajiyev, censured in a series of tweets the missile attack and underlined that at least 20 buildings have been destroyed by Armenia’s missiles, which he said were of the Scud series.
One of the missiles fell near a school in Ganja city and another targeted a multi-story residential apartment which was completely razed to the ground.
The attack came only six days after a missile struck another residential part of the city of more than 300,000 people, killing 10 civilians and leaving many on edge.
Azerbaijan’s public prosecutor’s office also reported that a hydroelectric power plant in the city of Mingacevir was targeted by the Armenian forces after midnight but the missiles were intercepted and destroyed by the Azerbaijani air defense forces.
The development came despite a ceasefire agreed between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh last Saturday following 11 hours of Russia-mediated negotiations in Moscow.
Since then, both sides have repeatedly accused each other of violating the deal and targeting civilians.
On Friday, Azerbaijani authorities said four civilians were killed and four others injured in a cemetery in Terter after mortar shells fired by Armenian troops hit a funeral.
Karabakh’s ombudsman Artak Beglaryan said in a tweet on Friday that Azerbaijan had struck the region’s main city of Khankendi which Armenians call Stepanakert, “with heavy missiles for the first time today.”
Beglaryan accused Azerbaijan of continuing to target civilian infrastructure and the international community of continuing to make “empty calls” for peace.
It came after Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev announced Friday that the army had “liberated” several villages following heavy fighting over the disputed region.
Armenia has admitted that Azerbaijani forces have made important gains along the front in the past week.
AFP said its team was taken by the Azerbaijani military on Friday to one settlement re-captured in the southern section of the conflict zone near the Iranian border.
The news agency quoted Azerbaijani officials as saying that they last controlled the settlement of Jabrayil, which includes strategic heights overlooking a fertile valley, during the post-Soviet war.
Meanwhile, the defense ministry of the breakaway region said that it had recorded another 29 casualties, pushing the military death toll to 633 since fighting erupted in late September.
Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but it has been administered by ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Armenia since 1992, when they broke from Azerbaijan in a war that killed some 30,000 people.
In 1994, a ceasefire was put in place, and France, Russia, and the US — known as the “Minsk Group” — were tasked with finding a lasting solution to the conflict. But for decades, the group has failed to stop the sporadic outbreaks of fighting and implement United Nations resolutions that demand an Armenian withdrawal from the Nagorno-Karabakh.