VOA NEWS - Heavy fighting continued Sunday between Armenian and Azerbaijan forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, a primarily ethnic Armenian region in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijani officials said Armenian forces had begun attacking Azerbaijan’s second largest city, Ganja. Unverified videos on Twitter from government officials show damaged buildings.
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry rejected accusations that Azerbaijan’s military had targeted civilians. Officials in Nagorno-Karabakh have said nearly 200 of their service personnel had been killed. Azerbaijan confirmed the deaths of at least 24 civilians.
In a statement released Sunday, the International Committee of the Red Cross condemned the violence.
“All feasible measures must be taken to protect and spare civilians and civilian infrastructures like hospitals, schools and markets. Water supply for civilians must also be protected. These are obligations under international humanitarian law,” Martin Schüepp, ICRC Eurasia regional director in Geneva, said in the statement.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said late Saturday that his forces “raised the flag” over the strategic town of Madagiz and had taken several villages.
The Armenian Defense Ministry said separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh had fended off a large Azerbaijani attack, and spokeswoman Shushan Stepanian pointed to intense fighting "along the entire front line," saying Armenian forces had shot down three Azerbaijani planes.
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry denied any aircraft were shot down and said Armenian personnel had shelled civilian territory.
Azerbaijan has not offered details on military casualties.
Vahram Poghosyan, a spokesman for Nagorno-Karabakh's president, said Saturday on Facebook that intelligence showed that about 3,000 Azerbaijanis were killed in the fighting, without providing details.
Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Artsrun Ovannisian said later Saturday that 2,300 Azerbaijani troops were killed, including about 400 in the previous day; however, this claim cannot be verified.
President Aliyev has demanded the withdrawal of Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh as the only way to end the fighting.
Meanwhile, Nagorno-Karabakh authorities have called on the international community to "recognize the independence" of the enclave as “the only effective mechanism to restore peace."
Armenian and Azerbaijani forces ignored calls this past week by the United States, France and Russia for an immediate cease-fire in Nagorno-Karabakh, as fighting escalated to levels not seen since the 1990s. The three countries co-chair the OSCE Minsk Group, which is tasked with finding a peaceful solution. The OSCE is the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Armenian separatists seized Nagorno-Karabakh, formerly an autonomous territory within Azerbaijan, in a bloody war in the 1990s that killed an estimated 30,000 people.
Talks to resolve the conflict have been halted since a 1994 cease-fire agreement among Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Peace efforts collapsed in 2010.