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Armenia, Azerbaijan trade blame over violations of US-brokered cease-fire

Armenia, Azerbaijan trade blame over violations of US-brokered cease-fire
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Armenia and Azerbaijan on Monday blamed each other for violating within hours a third attempt at a cease-fire recently brokered by the U.S., with fighting continuing to rage over the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE announced Sunday night that the former Soviet republics had agreed to respect the terms of two previously negotiated humanitarian cease-fires that occurred in Moscow and that both sides would lay down arms beginning Monday at 8 a.m. local time. 

But both sides shortly accused the other of violating the terms of the agreement.

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Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry said that Armenian forces Monday morning had targeted Azerbaijani forces with artillery and shelled the city of Tartar and surrounding villages in a “gross violation of the humanitarian ceasefire agreement.”

Armenian President Nikol Pashinyan wrote on Twitter that the "Armenian side continues to strictly adhere to the ceasefire regime,” and Armenia’s foreign ministry said allegations by Azerbaijan “do not correspond to reality and are obviously provocative.”

The two countries have been engaged in a nearly monthlong war over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway territory within Azerbaijan that is controlled by its ethnic-Armenian majority, which refers to the area as the Republic of Artsakh.

Artak Beglaryan, the human rights ombudsman of Artsakh, on Monday morning accused Azerbaijan of violating the cease-fire with a missile strike on a small village in the territory, killing one civilian and wounding two. 

The Artsakh Defense Forces have suffered at least 963 casualties, the Armenian Foreign Ministry has said, at least 37 civilian deaths and over 100 wounded.

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The Azerbaijan military does not publish its military deaths but has said at least 65 civilians were killed and 300 wounded, The Associated Press reported.

The international community has responded with alarm over the outbreak of heavy fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan, over the use of heavy weapons, targeting of civilian-populated areas and the potential for a wider regional conflict — Russia has a mutual defense treaty with Yerevan, while Turkey has put political and military support behind Baku.

The U.S., France and Russia are co-chairs of the Minsk Group that for nearly 30 years has sought to negotiate a political settlement to the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, which the international community recognizes as part of Azerbaijan but Armenians say is part of their historic homeland.

The most recent outbreak of fighting, which started on Sept. 27, is considered the bloodiest since the two sides laid down arms after a brutal war that ended in 1994. Clashes have broken out between the countries periodically over the past 30 years.

The Trump administration held intensive negotiations over the weekend with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan to bring them back to a cease-fire under the terms of the two previous negotiations in Moscow on Oct. 10 and Oct. 18, but that also fell apart within hours. Both sides have accused the other of violating the terms of the agreement.

The U.S.-led talks included Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoBiden faces challenges, opportunities in Middle East O'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Israeli military instructed to prepare for Trump strike on Iran: report MORE, Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun and national security advisor Robert O’Brien and also included an announcement that Armenia and Azerbaijan would return to political negotiations under the Minsk Group in Geneva on Thursday.

Trump on Sunday night congratulated the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan for agreeing to the cease-fire and said “many lives will be saved.”