Fighting on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan reportedly resumed early on Thursday, with the two sides accusing each other of attacking their frontline positions and shelling villages.
The Armenian military claimed to have thwarted a pre-dawn Azerbaijani raid on one of its border posts in the northern Tavush district.
“After a fierce gun battle the enemy was repelled, suffering casualties,” said Shushan Stepanian, the spokeswoman for the Defense Ministry in Yerevan. She said Azerbaijani forces then began shelling two Armenian border villages.
“Gunfire is continuing at the moment,” Stepanian wrote on Facebook in the morning. “Units of the Armenian Armed Forces are neutralizing Azerbaijani provocations.”
Stepanian reported shortly afterwards that Armenian Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan has phoned Andrzej Kasprzyk, the head of an OSCE mission monitoring the ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, to brief him on the latest escalation. She said Tonoyan told Kasprzyk that the Azerbaijani side suffered “many casualties.”
The official added that no Armenian soldiers were killed at the volatile border section as of 9 a.m. local time.
Opening a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan later in the day, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said that a hilltop border post of the Armenian army in Tavush was the primary target of overnight Azerbaijani attacks.
Pashinian said that more than 100 Azerbaijani commandos stormed but failed to seize it before other Azerbaijani troops launched unsuccessful attacks on adjacent Armenian positions. None of the Armenian soldiers was killed or wounded, he told ministers.
Stepanian claimed, for her part, that Armenian forces destroyed an Azerbaijani tank and struck “artillery and mortar positions that were shelling our settlements and positions.” She posted a short video of plumes of black smoke rising from behind a hill on what appeared to be the Azerbaijani side of the frontier.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry accused Armenian forces of attacking its frontline troops and shelling Azerbaijani villages in the Tovuz district bordering Tavush. It said one Azerbaijani soldier was killed in action.
Azerbaijani news agencies quoted the ministry spokesman, Vagif Dargahli, as denying any incursions into Armenian territory attempted by the Azerbaijani army and shelling of Tavush villages. “Our army units never shoot at settlements,” he said.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service in the morning, Tavush Governor Hayk Chobanian said not only the local villages but also the town of Berd came under Azerbaijani artillery fire. None of their residents was hurt as a result, he said, adding that the shelling caused damage to civilian homes and infrastructure.
“Residents are hiding in basements and shelters,” said Chobanian. “Their life is not at risk.”
“There is no need for evacuation … I hope that this won’t last long,” added the governor.
Renewed fighting in the area broke out after a one-day pause that followed three days of deadly clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces which left at least 15 soldiers dead and prompted serious concern from the international community.
In a statement issued late on Wednesday, the U.S., Russian and French mediators co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group hailed the lull in the fighting and urged the parties to “make every effort to continue de-escalation.”
“The Co-Chairs welcomed the confirmation of the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan to hold substantive negotiations on crucial aspects of a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement as soon as possible and emphasized the importance of returning OSCE monitors to the region as soon as circumstances allow,” said the statement.