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New Armenia, Azerbaijan truce totters amid violation claims

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Smoke rises after shelling by Azerbaijan's artillery during a military conflict in Stepanakert, the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. The heavy shelling forced residents of Stepanakert, the regional capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, into shelters, as emergency teams rushed to extinguish fires. Nagorno-Karabakh authorities said other towns in the region were also targeted by Azerbaijani artillery fire. (AP Photo)

YEREVAN – Armenia and Azerbaijan on Monday accused each other of violating a new cease-fire announced the day before in a bid to halt the fighting over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh that has killed hundreds, possibly thousands, in just four weeks.

The truce that took effect Monday morning was agreed upon on Sunday after talks facilitated by the United States. It was a third attempt to establish a lasting cease-fire in the flare-up of a decades-old conflict and, just like the previous two, it was immediately challenged by claims of violation from both sides.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry alleged that Armenian forces fired at Azerbaijani settlements and the positions of the Azerbaijani army “along the entire front, as well as on the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border." Azerbaijan also accused Armenian forces of targeting its town of Terter and the Aghjabedi region.

Armenian military officials in turn accused Azerbaijani forces of shelling the northeastern area of Nagorno-Karabakh and other areas. By Monday afternoon, “heavy battles” were taking place in the southeast of the region, Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Artsrun Ovannisian said.

Officials in Nagorno-Karabakh also charged that Azerbaijan “continued missile strikes" on the region's civilian settlements, killing one and wounding two more.

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan insisted they complied with the cease-fire and blamed each other for breaching it.

Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994. The latest fighting that began Sept. 27 has involved heavy artillery, rockets and drones, in the largest escalation of hostilities over the separatist region in more than a quarter-century.

According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, 974 of their troops and over 30 civilians have been killed in the clashes so far. Azerbaijani authorities haven’t disclosed their military losses, but say the fighting has killed 65 civilians and wounded 300.