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Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian-backed military accused Azerbaijani forces on Friday of using mortars to intensify ceasefire violations along the “line of contact” around Karabakh.

“Starting from 12:15, the enemy is firing from 60- and 82-milimeter mortars at the [Karabakh] Defense Army’s positions at northeastern sections of the frontline,” the army said in a statement issued early in the afternoon. It claimed that the Azerbaijani side also resorted to “provocative actions” overnight.

“In order to suppress the enemy’s offensive activity, frontline troops of the Defense Army are taking retaliatory actions,” added the statement.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to these claims. It said earlier in the day that Armenian forces used mortars to shell its troops stationed along Azerbaijan’s border with Armenia and the Karabakh “line of contact.”

Neither side reported casualties.

The Azerbaijani mortar fire was reported near Talish, a war-ravaged village in Karabakh’s north. The village mayor, Vilen Petrosian, also said that nearby Karabakh Armenian positions are being shelled.

“Gunshots are continuing right now, but they are not reaching our village,” Petrosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “They are mainly shooting at army positions near Talish.”

Nagorno-Karabakh - Armenian soldiers at an artillery position in southeastern Karabakh, 8Apr2016.

Nagorno-Karabakh - Armenian soldiers at an artillery position in southeastern Karabakh, 8Apr2016.

The mountainous area was one of the epicenters of unusually heavy fighting in and around Karabakh that broke out in early April. The Azerbaijani army heavily shelled Talish and partly or fully destroyed many village houses when it went on offensive at the time.

The several hundred residents of Talish fled their homes as a result. The vast majority of them are still too scared to return.

At least 180 Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers were killed before the four-day hostilities were halted by a Russian-brokered agreement. Truce violations on the Karabakh frontlines decreased significantly after April as the international community scrambled to de-escalate the Karabakh conflict.

In recent weeks, the Karabakh leadership has accused Baku of increasingly breaching the ceasefire regime. Still, a team of U.S., Russian and French mediators said that “the situation on the ground remains relatively calm” after visiting the conflict zone late last month. They also stressed that “respect for the ceasefire provides a critical foundation for ongoing negotiations” between the warring sides.

The latest escalation alleged by the Armenian side comes on the eve of large-scale military exercises planned by Azerbaijan. The exercises will reportedly involve tens of thousands of soldiers and hundreds of tanks, artillery systems, helicopters and warplanes.

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