Armenia and Azerbaijan on Monday once again accused each other of launching fresh attacks in the conflict over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh — despite a new cease-fire.
A three-week halt to fighting was supposed to have come into force at midnight Sunday. It was the second attempt at a truce after an earlier deal brokered by Moscow fell apart last week.
But Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said Armenian forces had shelled its Goranboy, Terter, Aghjabedi and Aghdam districts overnight.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev accused Armenia of "blatantly" violating the truce and said Azerbaijani forces had taken control of 13 more Armenian-held settlements. The Azeri defense ministry said Armenian forces were shelling the Agjebedin, Tovuz and Dashkesan regions.
Meanwhile, authorities in Karabakh, backed by Armenia, said artillery fire from Azerbaijani forces hadn't let up, and that the Karabakh army had taken "proportionate actions."
They said Azeri forces had shelled civilian settlements including the town of Martuni and four villages.
Both sides denied each other's claims.
Lavrov calls for end to 'confrontational rhetoric'
Hundreds of people have died in renewed fighting that broke out in September — the deadliest clashes since a war over the separatist territory ended in 1994.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who has been mediating between the warring sides, said the continued fighting was "unacceptable."
He called on the countries to "immediately stop ratcheting up confrontational rhetoric" and reiterated the importance of putting in place cease-fire monitoring tools.
"We are working on this," he added.
Fears about expanding conflict
There are concerns the conflict could also draw in international players such as Turkey — an important ally of Azerbaijan — and Russia, which has a defense pact with Armenia.
The European Union, Russia and the US have all called for the fighting to stop and for peace talks to be mediated by France, Russia and the United States.
Representatives from the three countries co-chair the so-called Minsk Group, which was created in 1992 to encourage a negotiated resolution to a then-full-blown war that killed at least 30,000 people.
Richard Giragosian, who leads the Regional Studies Center think tank in Yerevan, spoke to Deutsche Welle about his optimism for new diplomatic initiatives. He explained that there is "momentum driven on three levels, of French demonstration of shuttle diplomacy, coupled with a Russian effort to secure and broker a cease fire. And now ... a recent announcement that the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers will travel to Washington for a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo on Friday."
"What's interesting about the Washington meeting is it offers hope for a breakthrough diplomatically. Momentum now is less on the battlefield and more in the diplomacy," he added.
He also pointed out how Turkey had been "sidestepped and sidelined diplomatically" due its lack of interest in a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but it is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians after it was seized during the war in the early 1990s.
Azerbaijan has insisted it has the right to reclaim the region by force, claiming the Minsk Group's efforts have failed to bring progress after three decades.
kmm, nm/shs (AFP, AP, Reuters)