Azerbaijan said Wednesday it destroyed missile launchers inside Armenia that were targeting its cities, an escalation that threatens to further draw regional powers Russia and Turkey into the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, the AFP reported.
Armenia confirmed that military positions inside the country were hit but denied its forces had been firing into Azerbaijan. It warned that it too could start targeting military sites inside its adversary's territory.
Armenia's foreign ministry later accused Azerbaijan of refusing to implement the ceasefire and -- with Turkish support -- of trying to "expand" the area of the conflict by attacking Armenia.
Clashes over Nagorno-Karabakh have been largely confined to the region since a fresh outbreak of fighting started last month. Direct confrontations between Armenia and Azerbaijan risk spiraling into an all-out, multi-front war with devastating consequences, according to AFP.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan conceded Wednesday that separatist fighters had been forced to withdraw from frontline positions in the north and south. Pashinyan described the situation in the conflict area as quite hard and said Azerbaijan and Turkey did not want "to stop their aggression".
Azerbaijan's defense ministry said in statements Wednesday that it had destroyed ballistic missile launchers deployed in Armenia in two attacks overnight. The OTR-21 Tochka mobile systems were in areas of Armenia bordering the Kalbajar district of Azerbaijan that is under separatist control, it said. Launchers at the first site were aiming at the Azerbaijani cities of Ganja, Mingachevir and other populated areas, it said.
Nagorno-Karabakh has seen heavy fighting over recent weeks that has claimed the lives of 600 people, including civilians.
Erdogan-Putin phone call
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, stating that Turkey expects a permanent solution for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Anadolu news agency said.
According to a statement from the Turkish presidential office, the two leaders discussed regional issues, particularly the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict.
Erdoğan told Putin that Armenia is attempting to turn its 30-year-old occupation in the Nagorno-Karabakh region into a permanent one. He further underlined that Turkey is expecting a sustainable solution to the conflict.
Putin, on the other hand, expressed his concerns about the participation of Middle East fighters in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Kremlin said in a statement.
It also said that Putin and Erdoğan reaffirmed the importance of a Moscow-mediated cease-fire for both sides.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by Reuters as saying that it would be right to deploy Russian military observers on Nagorno-Karabakh's line of contact, which separates the two sides, but that it was up to Azerbaijan and Armenia to decide. He also said a plan for Azerbaijan to be given control of certain areas around Nagorno-Karabakh should be brought to the negotiating table for discussion, but gave no details.
Moscow has so far refused to become drawn into the conflict -- even though Armenia is part of a regional Russia-led security group -- noting that the organization's treaty applies to Armenian territory, not Karabakh.
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