Azerbaijan launches military operation in Karabakh as tensions escalate
Azerbaijan says it has launched a military operation in Karabakh almost three years after it went to war with Armenia over the disputed mountainous region.
Blasts were heard Tuesday in the Armenian separatist stronghold of Khankandi which Armenians call Stepanakert in the breakaway region.
They said Karabakh towns and cities were “under intensive fire”.
"Mass shelling has started here," Ruen Vardanyan, a former state minister of Karabakh said on Telegram.
Baku said it had informed the command of Russian peacekeepers and leadership of Turkish-Russian monitoring center about military activities it was carrying out in Karabakh.
Its Foreign Ministry said the Karabakh separatist “regime” must be dissolved.
Russia said it was in contact with Azerbaijan over the operations. Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova urged the two South Caucasian countries to "end bloodshed" and pursue peace talks.
"The Russian side urges an end to the bloodshed... and a return to a peaceful settlement," she said.
Zakharova said "all steps for a peaceful solution are spelled out in (Moscow-brokered) agreements signed between 2020 and 2022."
The developments come after months of mounting tensions between the Caucasus neighbors and hours after Baku said six Azerbaijanis were killed by mine explosions in Karabakh, blaming Armenian separatists.
The escalation occurred a day after badly needed food and medicine was delivered to Karabakh along two roads simultaneously, a step that looked like it could help ease mounting tension.
Azerbaijan said Tuesday it had opened humanitarian routes for non-combatants to flee hostilities.
Armenia's defense ministry said the situation on its border with Azerbaijan was stable.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a decades-long conflict over Karabakh, going to war in the 1990s and in 2020.