A missile strike levelled a row of properties in Azerbaijan’s second metropolis of Ganja on Saturday, killing 12 and injuring greater than 40 folks in their sleep in a pointy escalation of the conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh area.

The early hours assault, which noticed a second missile strike one other a part of Ganja and a 3rd attain the close by strategic metropolis of Mingecevir, got here hours after Azerbaijani forces shelled the ethnic Armenian separatist area’s capital Stepanakert.

The seeming tit-fot-tat assaults additional undermines worldwide efforts to calm a resurgence of combating between Christian Armenians and Muslim Azerbaijanis earlier than it attracts in regional powers Russia and Turkey.

An AFP staff in Ganja noticed rows of homes turned to rubble by the strike, which shattered the partitions and ripped the roofs off buildings in the encircling streets.

People ran exterior in shock and tears, stumbling by darkish muddy alleys in their slippers, some carrying rest room robes and pyjamas.

– Second assault –

The assault got here solely six days after a missile struck one other residential a part of the town of greater than 300,000 folks, killing 10 civilians and leaving many on edge.

At the scene of the newest strike, exploding shells rumbled in the space as rescuers and crimson helmets used sniffer canine to seek for indicators on life.

“We were sleeping. The kids were watching TV,” Rubaba Zhafarova, 65, mentioned in entrance of her destroyed dwelling.

“All the houses around here are destroyed. Many people are under the rubble. Some are dead, some are wounded.”

Hikmat Hajiyev, an assistant to Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, tweeted that in response to “initial information, more than 20 houses were destroyed” on Saturday.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s army mentioned Azerbaijani forces had stepped up their assaults on Friday throughout the entrance, shelling Stepanakert and the close by city of Susi.

The separatists “carried out equivalent operations to stop adversary fire,” they mentioned in an announcement launched by the Armenian authorities.

– Passports, keys, bracelets –

Rescuers periodically referred to as for silence so they might hear the sounds of survivors because the hours handed, pulling passports, keys, bracelets and objects of clothes from the particles.

They referred to as in sniffer canine and watered down the suffocating columns of mud with hoses from a fireplace truck.

“One woman was missing her feet. Someone else was missing an arm at the elbow,” mentioned Elmir Shirinzaday, 26, in a visual state of shock.

Rescuers struggled to raise heavy boulders of rubble in seek for indicators of life, periodically taking breaks to try to calm distraught victims.

“My wife was there, my wife was there,” one man cried inconsolably whereas being walked towards an ambulance by a paramedic.

At across the identical time in the town of Mingecevir, an hour’s drive north of Ganja, AFP heard the impression of an enormous blast that shook buildings.

Mingecevir is protected by a missile defence system as a result of it’s dwelling to a strategic dam, and it was not instantly clear if the missile was destroyed in the air or had made impression.

The defence ministry mentioned Mingecevir had come “under fire”, however supplied no different rapid particulars.

An Azerbaijani official mentioned that one other missile hit a separate, industrial district of Ganja at across the identical time.

There had been no rapid particulars about that assault.

– Decades-long conflict –

The decades-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict re-erupted on September 27 and has up to now killed greater than 700 folks, together with almost 80 civilians.

The mountainous western area of Azerbaijan has remained beneath separatist Armenian management since a 1994 ceasefire ended a brutal struggle that killed 30,000.

Armenia, which backs Nagorno-Karabakh however doesn’t recognise its independence, has admitted that Azerbaijani forces have made essential good points alongside the entrance in the previous week.

An AFP staff was taken by the Azerbaijani army on Friday to at least one settlement re-captured in the southern part of the conflict zone close to the Iranian border.

Azerbaijani officers mentioned they final managed the settlement of Jabrayil, which incorporates strategic heights overlooking a fertile valley, through the post-Soviet struggle.

The present escalation is the deadliest and longest since that six-year conflict.

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