Karabakh city hit by heaviest shelling in month of fighting: official
Azerbaijan launched its heaviest rocket attacks in a month of fighting on Thursday against the largest city in the Armenian-populated breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
"Azerbaijan hit Stepanakert for several hours, dozens of rockets hit the city," Artak Beglaryan, ombudsman for rights in Karabakh, told AFP.
"Civilians were injured as a result of the strike, which was worst in the recent fighting," he said.
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More than 130 civilians have been killed and thousands displaced in renewed clashes that broke out last month between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces during their decades-long conflict over control of the disputed area.
Azerbaijan said 26 civilians, including children and women, were killed in Armenian rocket attacks on the cities of Ganja and Barda earlier this week.
Armenia has refused to carry out the attacks.
The Azerbaijani Presidency said on Thursday that "at the initiative of (President) Ilham Aliyev, the Azerbaijani side handed over the bodies of 30 troops killed in action to Armenia".
"Armenia has shown no goodwill on this matter," but thanks to Russian mediation it "has agreed to open a humanitarian corridor for the evacuation of the bodies of Azerbaijani soldiers from battlefields," Aliyev's foreign affairs adviser Hikmet Hajiyev told journalists.
Armenian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan confirmed the handover brokered by Russia and the Red Cross, adding that the Armenian side is ready to return the bodies of murdered Azerbaijani soldiers.
The two sides have accused each other of failing to comply with three separate ceasefire agreements signed this month by Russia, France and the United States.
Moscow, Paris and Washington are co-chairs of the Minsk mediator group, which has not made a lasting breakthrough since a 1994 ceasefire.
The Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and Jeyhun Bayramov were due to meet with the co-chairs of the Minsk Group in Geneva on Thursday.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said Bayramov had postponed the meeting to Friday and that he would not meet directly with his Armenian counterpart.
Nagorno-Karabakh split from Baku in a war in the 1990s that killed 30,000 people.
The seven districts of Karabakh and Azerbaijan that surround the mountain province have since been under the control of Armenian separatists, but are internationally recognized as part of the territory of Azerbaijan.
At least 1,252 people from both sides were reported dead in the recent flare-up last month - the deadliest since the 1994 ceasefire.
It is believed that the death toll is much higher. Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that nearly 5,000 people were killed.
mkh-im / jbr / tgb
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