YEREVAN/BAKU -- Fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh continued overnight, with the separatist region's de facto authorities reporting the deaths of at least three civilians following shelling by Azerbaijani forces.
The shelling was concentrated on Stepanakert, the region's largest city, and Shushi (known in Azeri as Susa), a strategic mountain town located some 10 kilometers south of Stepanakert.
Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but the ethnic Armenians who make up most of the population reject Azerbaijani rule. They have been governing their own affairs, with support from Armenia, since Azerbaijan's troops were pushed out of the region in a war that ended in a cease-fire in 1994.
“As a result of rocket fire, several residential houses were burned in Shushi. There is also destruction in the capital (Stepanakert). Rescue services are working on the spots,” Nagorno-Karabakh’s de facto Emergency Service reported early on November 6.
An RFE/RL Armenian Service correspondent in Stepanakert has confirmed the deaths of three civilians in the city, reporting at least a dozen explosions heard in the area last night.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan also reported shelling of its populated areas by ethnic Armenian forces. The country’s Defense Ministry said that the town of Tartar and nearby villages came under fire on November 6 in the morning.
Both sides deny they target civilian populations in the ongoing conflict.
The two sides again gave different accounts of the developments along the front lines in the morning.
Armenia-backed ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh claimed to have conducted “effective defensive battles,” stopping attacks by Azerbaijani armed forces at several major sectors of the front line.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan claimed its armed forces have been on the offensive in several directions, causing Armenian forces to retreat.
On November 5, Nagorno-Karabakh’s de facto ethnic Armenian leader, Arayik Harutiunian, said he had visited Shushi to meet with defenders of the town and discuss “the strategy of the struggle against the numerous forces of the enemy.”
As Azerbaijani forces were reportedly closing in on Shushi, Harutiunian said that “all possible efforts are being exerted to keep the fortress town impenetrable.”
At least some 1,000 people have been reported killed since fighting erupted on September 27, raising fears of a wider conflict in the South Caucasus drawing in NATO member Turkey, which is an ally of Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a military pact with Armenia.
Three cease-fires brokered by Russia, France, and the United States all collapsed within ours of entering into force.
Armenian forces and Azerbaijani's military claim to have inflicted devastating losses on each other. But reports from the opposing sides are often contradictory and hard to verify.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on October 22 that Moscow believes nearly 5,000 people had been killed in the fighting.