Fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani troops over Nagorno-Karabakh resumes ahead of a crucial meeting of Azerbaijan's top diplomat with US, Russian and French envoys.

A view of the damage after missiles, allegedly launched by Armenian forces from Nagorno-Karabakh, hit one restaurant and some homes in Barda, Azerbaijan, October 08, 2020.
A view of the damage after missiles, allegedly launched by Armenian forces from Nagorno-Karabakh, hit one restaurant and some homes in Barda, Azerbaijan, October 08, 2020. (AA)

New clashes have erupted between Azerbaijan and Armenia before talks in which the United States, France, and Russia will discuss how to secure a ceasefire and avert a wider war in the South Caucasus.

Azerbaijan said the city of Ganja, deep inside the former Soviet republic, had been shelled by Armenian forces on Thursday.

One civilian was killed in Azerbaijan's Goranboy region and other villages and towns were fired on by Armenian soldiers, it said.

Baku denied its forces shelled a historic cathedral in Nagorno-Karabakh's city of Shusha as claimed by Armenia.

"The information about the damage to the church in Shusha has nothing to do with the military actions of the Azerbaijani army," the defence ministry said in a statement.

"Unlike the armed forces of Armenia... the Azerbaijani army does not target historical, cultural, or especially religious buildings and monuments."

Following the latest reports of fighting, Armenia said it had dismissed the head of its National Security Service in a presidential decree. It gave no reason. 

Mounting toll

Azerbaijani authorities said 30 civilians have been killed so far and 143 wounded since September 27 but have not disclosed information about military casualties.

Armenians said 30 of their servicemen were killed in new clashes, taking its military death toll to 350 since September 27. It said 19 civilians were killed and many wounded.

Azerbaijan's Defence Minister Anar Eyvazov said one unmanned air vehicle belonging to Armenia was shot down by Azerbaijani air defence units in the region near the Armenia-Azerbaijan border on Thursday and Armenia's military infrastructure and ammunition depots were hit with artillery.

He said an Armenian military convoy was destroyed by the Azerbaijani army. Ten tanks, six D-20 howitzers, one Akatsiya self-propelled howitzer and 30 vehicles belonging to Armenia were destroyed in different locations of the front line, and soldiers of the 1st and 7th regiments of the Armenian army fled.

Armenian forces launched Tockha-U missile strikes on the provinces of Goranboy, Tartar, Aghdam, Aghjabadi and Barda, and some Azerbaijani civilians were killed and wounded, he said.

Crucial meeting in Russia

On Thursday, Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov was to meet diplomats from France, Russia and the United States in Geneva.

The foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia have been invited to take part in talks in Moscow on Friday, the Kremlin cited President Vladimir Putin as saying, adding the invitation follows calls between the three countries' leaders.

"Following a series of telephone discussions between the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and the Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, the President of Russia calls for a halt to military actions in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict," the statement added.

The talks mark the start of a concerted drive by the three powers to halt fighting that flared on September 27, increasing concerns about the security of pipelines in Azerbaijan that carry natural gas and oil to Europe.

Washington, Paris, and Moscow are co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's (OSCE) Minsk Group that has led mediation in decades of conflict over the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Under international law, Armenia-occupied Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan but it has been occupied by Armenians following a 1991-94 war that killed about 30,000 people.

"The position of the United States has been clear and has not changed: both sides must cease hostilities immediately and work with the Minsk Group Co-Chairs to return to substantive negotiations as soon as possible," a US spokesperson in Geneva said.

READ MORE: Azerbaijani FM to meet international mediators over Karabakh conflict

Fears of further escalation

The warring sides have ignored repeated ceasefire calls and the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders have been at odds over their conditions for halting fighting.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's main demand is for Armenia to set a timetable for withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding Azerbaijani territories, and wants Turkey involved in peacemaking.

He told Euronews in an interview that Bayramov's attendance at the Geneva talks "shows who wants negotiations."

Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry dismissed calls for a unilateral ceasefire which it said, "maintain the status quo based on occupation."

READ MORE: Azerbaijan demands inclusion of Turkey in Karabakh solution process

Azerbaijan's primary route for oil exports is the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which accounts for around 80 percent of the country's oil exports and runs via Georgia and on to the Turkish Mediterranean coast. (Enes Danis / TRTWorld)
Azerbaijan's primary route for oil exports is the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which accounts for around 80 percent of the country's oil exports and runs via Georgia and on to the Turkish Mediterranean coast. (Enes Danis / TRTWorld) (TRTWorld)

Hardening stances 

Armenia has ruled out a withdrawal from territory it considers historic homelands.

"Our position has been and remains that the Karabakh issue cannot be solved through violence," Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told Euronews.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has accused the Minsk Group of neglecting the crisis for decades, said on Thursday that Ankara would continue to support "our Azerbaijani brothers with all our resources."

"I renew my call for the international community to ... take steps to end Armenia's occupation of Azerbaijani lands," he told Qatar's The Peninsula newspaper.

Also on Thursday, Azerbaijan recalled its ambassador to Greece for consultations, its Foreign Ministry said.

"We brought to the attention of the Greek Foreign Ministry information from open sources about the arrival of Armenian citizens from foreign countries, including from Greece, to the occupied territories of Azerbaijan to participate in military operations," the ministry said in a statement.

Armenia denied the allegations and Athens had recalled its ambassador to Azerbaijan on Wednesday after what it said were "unfounded and offensive" allegations by Azerbaijan's government that Greece tolerated "terrorists" on its soil.

READ MORE: Azerbaijani FM to meet international mediators over Karabakh conflict

READ MORE: Azerbaijan frees more villages around occupied Karabakh as fighting rages

Russia's stance

Yerevan is in a military alliance of former-Soviet countries led by Moscow and any escalation of fighting over Karabakh that spills over into Armenia could risk triggering a Russian intervention.

But Moscow has shown little appetite for any escalation. On Wednesday, it said fighting was persisting in occupied Karabakh, not in Armenia itself.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies