Azerbaijan has said at least 12 people have been killed in shelling of a number of homes in the city of Ganja, and another 40 have been injured in the sharp escalation of the conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The Prosecutor General’s Office of Azerbaijan said two shells hit residential buildings in the country’s second largest city. There is still no official reaction from Armenia.
The surge in violence further undermined international efforts to calm the resumption of fighting between Christian Armenians and Muslim Azerbaijanis before attracting regional forces from Russia and Turkey.
Reporters in Ganja saw rows of houses turned into rubble by shelling, and a rescue team pulled black bags containing body parts from the scene. The strike destroyed walls and tore the roofs of buildings in the surrounding streets.
People fled outside in shock and tears, stumbling along muddy alleys in their slippers, some dressed in bathrobes and pajamas.
One witness said rescuers saw a small child, two women and four men being pulled from the rubble just after the strike.
“We slept. The children were watching TV, “said Rubaba Jafarova, 65, in front of her destroyed house. “All the houses around have been destroyed. Many people are under the rubble. Some are dead, others are injured. ”
The attack came just six days after a rocket hit another residential part of the city with more than 300,000 people, killing 10 civilians.
Hikmat Hadjiev, an aide to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, wrote on Twitter that, according to initial information, “more than 20 houses were destroyed” on Saturday.
Rescuers periodically called for silence so they could detect the sounds of survivors over time, removing passports, keys, bracelets and clothing from the wreckage. They called the dog-dogs and dusted the suffocating columns with hoses from a fire truck.
“My wife was there, my wife was there,” a man shouted inconsolably as he was taken to an ambulance by a paramedic.
Around the same time, in the town of Mingechevir, an hour’s drive north of Ganja, reporters heard the impact of a huge explosion that shook buildings.
Mingezevir is protected by a missile defense system because it is home to a strategic dam and it is not immediately clear whether the missile was destroyed in the air or struck.
The defense ministry said Mingezevir came under fire, but did not provide other immediate details.
An Azerbaijani official said a second rocket hit a separate industrial district of Ganja at the same time.
No immediate details are known about the second attack.
The decades-long conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh erupted again on September 27 in hotly contested circumstances, killing more than 700 people so far, including nearly 80 civilians.
The mountainous western region of Azerbaijan remains under separatist ethnic Armenian control, as the ceasefire in 1994 ended in a brutal war that killed 30,000 people.
But Armenia, which supports Nagorno-Karabakh but does not recognize its independence, acknowledged that Azerbaijani forces have made important strides on the front in the past week.
The current escalation is the deadliest and longest since this six-year conflict.
The shelling of Stepanakert and the strikes on Ganja followed a joint call by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday to “stop the bloodshed as soon as possible”.