Three Azerbaijani soldiers have reportedly been killed in action after the Armenian military accused Baku of again intensifying ceasefire violations in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone late last week.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said on Monday that two of those soldiers, one of them a lieutenant, died on Sunday when Armenian troops “attempted to invade” the Gazakh district in western Azerbaijan bordering Armenia’s northern Tavush province.
The combat deaths were announced two days after an Armenian soldier serving in the area was wounded and hospitalized as a result. Another Armenian, a 64-year-old civilian resident of Berkaber village close to the Azerbaijani border, was wounded by cross-border gunfire late on Friday. He too required hospitalization.
The third Azerbaijani casualty, an army sergeant, was reportedly shot dead on Friday. The Azerbaijani military did not specify whether he died on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border or “the line of contact” around Karabakh.
According to Karabakh’s Armenian-backed Defense Army, fighting along “the line of contact” intensified on Friday night and Saturday morning, with Azerbaijani forces firing more than 100 mortar shells and rockets. The reported rocket fire left a Karabakh Armenian farmer injured in the head.
The Defense Army said its frontline troops responded to the truce violations with “punitive actions.” A separate statement by the Defense Ministry in Yerevan released on Saturday said the Armenian military is conducting operations aimed at “restraining the Azerbaijani side” and “stabilizing the situation.” It did not elaborate.
The ministry spokesman, Artsrun Hovannisian, said on Monday that the situation at the Tavush-Gazakh section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontier was tense over the weekend. “The Armenian army’s actions were proportionate,” he told the Armenpress news agency. “We responded to all targeted [Azerbaijani] gunshots.”
The latest escalation came just days after Andzrej Kasprzyk, the top OSCE official monitoring the ceasefire regime in the conflict zone, called on the warring sides to avoid any truce violations during the Nowruz and Easter holidays celebrated in Azerbaijan and Armenia and Karabakh respectively. Each side now accuses the other of ignoring the appeal.
Announcing its latest casualties on Monday, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry urged the international community to condemn the “Armenian provocations.” An Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman, for his part, claimed that the Armenians are heightening tensions in order to cement the Karabakh status quo.
Unlike the Armenian side, Baku has repeatedly rejected specific safeguards against ceasefire violations that are sought by U.S., Russian and French mediators. As recently as on March 19, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev denounced the proposed confidence-building measures, saying that the mediators are “helping to freeze the conflict” and thereby supporting Armenia.