Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other on Tuesday of firing directly into each other’s territory beyond the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, as the worst regional fighting since the 1990s raged for a third day and civilian deaths mounted.
Dozens have been reported killed and hundreds wounded since clashes between Azerbaijan and its ethnic Armenian mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh broke out on Sunday in a new eruption of a decades-old conflict.
In a sign that fighting was spreading, Armenia’s foreign ministry reported the first death in Armenia proper – a civilian it said was killed in an Azeri attack in the town of Vardenis more than 20 km (12 miles) from Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Armenian defence ministry said an Armenian civilian bus caught fire in the town after being hit by an Azeri drone. It was not clear if the reported civilian death was from that incident.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said 10 civilians had been killed by Armenian shelling since Sunday. There was no official information about casualties among Azeri servicemen.
Nagorno-Karabakh is a breakaway region that is inside Azerbaijan but is run by ethnic Armenians and is supported by Armenia. It broke away from Azerbaijan in a war in the 1990s, but is not recognised by any country as an independent republic.
An all-out war could drag in major regional powers Russia and Turkey. Moscow has a defence alliance with Armenia, which is the enclave’s lifeline to the outside world, while Ankara backs its own ethnic Turkic kin in Azerbaijan.
The Kremlin said Moscow was in constant contact with Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan over the conflict. Any talk of providing military support for the opposing sides would only add fuel to the fire, it said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for an immediate ceasefire and de-escalation in phone calls with the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.
The Armenian defence ministry said in a statement that Azeri armed forces opened fire on a military unit in Vardenis, but that the border with Nakhchivan, an autonomous republic inside Azerbaijan, was less tense.
Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said that from Vardenis the Armenian army had shelled the Dashkesan region inside Azerbaijan. Armenia denied those reports.
Azerbaijan on Sunday reported the death of five members of a single family. Armenia said on Tuesday that a 9-year-old girl was killed in shelling, while her mother and a brother were wounded.
A mother and her child were killed in Martuni on Sunday, the defence ministry of Nagorno-Karabakh said.
The clashes have reignited concern over stability in the South Caucasus region, a corridor for pipelines carrying oil and gas to world markets.
Armenia is considering the possibility of concluding a military-political alliance with Nagorno-Karabakh, Lilit Makunts, an MP from the ruling My Step alliance, wrote on her Facebook page.
Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said both sides had attempted to recover lost ground by launching counter-attacks in the directions of Fizuli, Jabrayil, Agdere and Terter – Armenian-occupied areas of Azerbaijan that border Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenia reported fighting throughout the night, and said that Nagorno-Karabakh’s army had repelled attacks in several directions along the line of contact.