Azerbaijan says Armenia fires rockets at territory as NATO calls for restraint

Azerbaijan’s Defence Ministry said Armenia directed rocket fire at its territory as a conflict over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh showed no signs of abating.

The rocket attacks on Thursday targeted “peaceful populations and civilian infrastructure”, the ministry said in a statement on its website. There were no casualties, it said.

The United States, Russia and the European Union have stepped up efforts this week to end the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, which threatens a repeat of a war that killed 30,000 people during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Two Moscow-brokered ceasefires over the past two weeks have failed to hold.

On Wednesday, Armenian President Armen Sarkissian travelled to Brussels to meet NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who called for a latest ceasefire agreed at the weekend to be observed. The foreign ministers of the two warring countries were due to fly to Washington D.C. on Friday to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“It is important for NATO and international security that hostilities end, the suffering stops, and a peaceful solution is found,” Stoltenberg said, calling on both sides to show restraint, observe the ceasefire, and de-escalate. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are valued NATO partners, he said.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, who was elected in 2018 pledging to guarantee self determination for Nagorno-Karabakh, said Azerbaijan’s aggression during fighting that began on Sept. 27 left no room for diplomacy.

Pashinian said all Armenians must “take up arms and defend the Motherland” during a live address on Facebook on Wednesday. The enclave lies within the territory of Azerbaijan but its population is overwhelmingly Armenian.

“There is no way now to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh issue through diplomacy,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “In this situation, we may consider all hopes, proposals and ideas about the need to find a diplomatic settlement effectively terminated.”

Turkey, a staunch ally of Azerbaijan with which it shares close cultural, language and economic ties, says it is prepared to provide full military support to Azeri President Ilham Aliyev in the conflict.

Both Azerbaijan and Turkey have said Armenia should withdraw its forces from Nagorno-Karabakh before peace talks can start.

On Wednesday, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay labelled Armenia as a terrorist state for attacking civilians and said it must withdraw from the enclave immediately.

Oktay said claims by French President Emmanuel Macron that Turkey had sent Syrian mercenaries to fight alongside the Azeri army were groundless.

Macron was attempting to position himself as the EU’s leader, but nobody was taking him seriously, Oktay said.