A missile strike in Azerbaijan’s second city, Ganja, on Saturday drew rows of houses, killing 12 people and injuring more than 40 in their sleep amid escalating clashes over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The earliest attack, which saw the second missile reach the second part of Ganja and the third near the nearby strategic city of Minjesavir, came hours after Azerbaijani troops fired on the capital of a different part of the Armenian region, Stepanekart.
International efforts to quell the resurgence of fighting between Christian Armenians and Muslim Azerbaijanis before regional powers come to Russia and Turkey seem more effective.
An AFP team in Ganja saw the strike shatter rows of homes, smashing walls and roofing houses in surrounding streets.
People rushed out in shock and tears, stumbling through the black muddy alleys of their slippers, some wearing robes and pajamas in the bathroom.
– Second attack –
The attack came just six days after a missile struck another residential part of the city of more than 600,000 people, killing 10 civilians and leaving many stranded.
At the site of the latest strike, exploding shells rumbled in the distance as rescuers and red helmets used sniffer dogs to find signs of life.
“We were sleeping. The children were watching TV,” said Rubaba Zafarova, 65, in front of her destroyed home.
“All the surrounding houses have been destroyed. Many people are under debris. Some are dead, some are injured.”
Hikmat Hajiyev, an aide to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, tweeted on Saturday that “according to preliminary information, more than 20 houses were destroyed”.
The Nagorno-Karabakh army said Azerbaijani forces had stepped up their attacks on the front line on Friday, firing on Stepanekart and the nearby town of Susi.
In a statement released by the Armenian government, they said the separatists had carried out “equivalent operations to prevent hostile fires.”
– Passports, keys, bracelets –
Rescuers were periodically called for silence so they could hear the voices of survivors as hours passed, pulling passports, keys, bracelets and clothing items out of the rubble.
They called sniffer dogs and provided smoke columns of smoke from the fire truck.
“One woman was missing her leg. Another arm was missing at the elbow,” said Elmir Shirinjade, 26, in a state of shock.
Rescuers struggled to lift heavy stones of debris in search of signs of life, and periodically paused to calm the frustrated and the victims.
“My wife was there, my wife was there,” a man cried vaguely as he walked to the ambulance through the paramedic.
At the same time, in the town of Minjesavir, about an hour north of Ganja, AFP heard a huge explosion, which shook buildings.
Mingesweir is protected by a missile defense system as it is home to a strategic dam, and it was not immediately clear if the missile was destroyed in the air or affected.
The Defense Ministry said Minjasweer came “under fire”, but gave no immediate details.
An Azerbaijani official said another missile struck a separate, industrial district of marijuana.
No immediate details were available about the attack.
– Decades of struggle –
The decades-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict erupted again on September 27 and has so far killed more than 700 people, including about 80 civilians.
Azerbaijan’s mountainous western region has been under the control of separatist Armenians since the end of the brutal war that killed 30,000 people in a 1994 ceasefire.
Armenia, which supports Nagorno-Karabakh but does not recognize its independence, has acknowledged that Azerbaijani forces have made significant gains on the front in recent weeks.
An AFP team was led by Azerbaijani troops to a reconnaissance in the southern part of the conflict zone near the Iranian border on Friday.
Azerbaijani officials said they had finally taken control of the Gabriel settlement during the post-Soviet war, which included subtle valley-level strategic strategies.
The current growth is the worst and longest after six years of struggle.
Zak / JBR / DL