Armenian and Azerbaijani forces have been engaged in intense fighting over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region on Saturday, scuttling diplomatic efforts to reach a ceasefire to end the latest conflict that has killed hundreds.
According to Armenian defence ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan, Azerbaijan launched a large-scale new offensive, which Armenia-backed forces had repelled and launched a counter-offensive.
“Heavy fighting is ongoing on other flanks,” she wrote on Facebook.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said its troops had destroyed a large amount of military equipment belonging to the Armenian military.
“During the present day, the troops of the Azerbaijani army, successfully advancing in the intended directions, took possession of new strongholds and carried out a clean-up of the territory from the enemy,” the ministry said on early Saturday.
Nagorno-Karabakh is controlled by ethnic Armenians backed by Armenia and has been the subject of several United Nations resolutions calling for an end to the occupation of Azeri lands.
The leader of the breakaway province said he was heading to the front and that the “final battle” for the region had begun, seven days after new fighting erupted in the decades-old dispute.
World powers have been calling for a ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia since Sunday, when fighting over the region, which is officially part of Azerbaijan, first re-erupted.
On Friday, Armenia’s foreign ministry said it was prepared to work with international mediators France, Russia and the United States to reach a ceasefire with Azerbaijan.
However, Turkey’s foreign minister said that for Azerbaijan to agree to a ceasefire, Armenia must withdraw its forces.
Armenian sources have put the death toll from fighting in the region, where about 145,000 people live, at more than 200, while Azerbaijan most recently said that 19 civilians had been killed and 60 injured.
‘More troops into the conflict area’
Armenia said Azerbaijan brought more troops into the conflict area, which the government in Baku has not confirmed.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told Al Jazeera his country is the guarantor of security in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Azerbaijan launched a direct attack on Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia has certain obligations to provide the security for the region,” he said.
“The September 27 Azerbaijan offensive began with shelling of civilian settlements and this is a fact we need to acknowledge. When there is an attack, the very first task is to protect from that aggression after which only it is possible to talk about negotiations.”
For his part, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev said Armenia has not been interested in peace for the past three decades, after ethnic tensions increased following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“They want to occupy our lands forever,” he told Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu. “If Armenia demonstrated goodwill and acted in compliance with many international resolutions, the conflict would have been resolved long ago.”
Azerbaijan and Armenia previously fought a war over Nagorno-Karabakh in the late 1980s and early 1990s as they transitioned into independent countries amid the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The war, which ended with a fragile peace treaty in 1994, is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of people, including more than a thousand civilians.