Intense fighting rages on between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Karabakh region, with Baku claiming to have captured a string of villages in heavy clashes over the mountain enclave.
As fierce clashes between the two South Caucasus neighbors entered the eighth day on Sunday, local sources reported new strikes followed by several explosions in Khankendi, the main city of the breakaway region of Karabakh.
Azerbaijani authorities said they took "retaliatory measures" after rocket fire by Armenia-backed troops from the city which Armenians call Stepanakert.
Azerbaijan also said that the country's second-largest city Ganja - near the Armenian border but far from the scene of clashes in Karabakh - was "under fire" from Armenian forces.
In statements posted on its website, Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said Ganja, a city of more than 330,000 in western Azerbaijan, and several other civilian areas were under fire from rockets and shelling.
Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev announced a day earlier that his country’s armed forces had seized control over seven villages in regions adjacent to Karabakh.
"Today Azerbaijan’s Army has liberated Talish village of Terter district, Mehdili, Chaxirli, Ashagi Maralyan, Sheybey and Guyjag of Jabrayil district, and Ashagi Abdurrahmanli of Fizuli district," he said.
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry also confirmed the announcement and said the forces had "captured new footholds" in the disputed region.
Earlier on Saturday, Aliyev announced that Azerbaijani forces had taken control over the village of Madagiz, a strategic hamlet within firing range of an important northern road.
The Armenian Defense Ministry, for its part, said Yerevan-backed troops in Karabakh had repelled a massive attack by Azerbaijan, also reporting heavy losses as a result of the fierce fighting.
The ministry said it would use "all necessary means" to protect the region from attack by Azerbaijan.
Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called on Armenians in an address to the nation on Saturday to unite as the country was facing a historic threat.
"We are facing possibly the most decisive moment in our millennia-old history," Pashinyan said. "We all must dedicate ourselves to a singular goal: victory."
Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but currently it has an Armenian population and administration.
The two countries have been locked in the territorial dispute since the 1990s, when ethnic Armenians in Karabakh declared independence from Azerbaijan after the collapse of the Soviet Union, triggering a war that claimed 30,000 lives and forced more than 1 million Azerbaijanis to flee their homes.
The new round of fighting is the heaviest since a 1994 ceasefire, which nevertheless failed to put an ultimate end to the conflict.
Both sides involved in the conflict have been accused of hitting civilian areas.
Armenia has reported 209 military deaths and 14 civilian fatalities. Azerbaijan has reported 19 civilian deaths but has not confirmed any fatalities among its troops.
The fighting continues despite international calls for the neighbors to halt clashes and start peace negotiations as fears grow that the clashes could expand into a multi-front war sucking in regional powers Turkey and Russia.
Turkey, a close ally to Azerbaijan, has blamed Armenia for the eruption of the conflict and promised Azerbaijan its “full support.”
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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