BAKU: Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other of violating a new ceasefire to halt fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh shortly after it had been due to take effect on Monday.
The US State Department had announced earlier that Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to respect a “humanitarian ceasefire” in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, after two previous attempts to stem the bloodshed in the disputed region failed.
Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry said Armenian forces had shelled the town of Terter and nearby villages in “gross violation” of the truce, which was announced by Washington on Sunday and was due to start at 8am local time.
Armenia’s defence ministry said Azerbaijani forces had “grossly violated” the ceasefire with artillery fire on combat positions in various parts of the frontline.
Armenian President Nikol Pashinyan insisted on Facebook that his country “continues to strictly adhere to the ceasefire regime”.
“The Azerbaijani side crudely violated a humanitarian ceasefire deal for a third time,” said Vahram Poghosyan, a spokesman for the Karabakh separatist leader.
“Our task today is to defend our homeland…. We’ve been left with no choice,” he wrote on social media.
An aide to the Azerbaijani president, Hikmet Hajiyev, said it was Armenia that violated the current and two previous truce agreements.
“Armenia’s goal is to preserve the status quo based on occupation,” he said in a statement. “The Azerbaijani side is exercising restraint.”
Azerbaijan and Armenia have been locked in a bitter conflict over Karabakh since Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan seized control of the mountainous province in a 1990s war that left 30,000 people dead.
The current conflict broke out Sept 27. Armenia and Azerbaijan accuse each other of having targeted the civilian population, and of breaking the previous truces.