Azerbaijan and Armenia agree ceasefire following Ganja missile attack

(Updates with details throughout)

A humanitarian truce has been agreed between Armenia and Azerbaijan from midnight local time, the foreign ministers of both countries said late on Saturday night.

The move was welcomed by international powers including France, which said it remained committed to ensuring that "hostilities cease permanently and that credible discussions can quickly begin”.

The ceasefire follows a significant escalation in the fighting that has seen a growing number of civilians killed.  

Eearlier in the day, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev accused Armenia of committing a war crime by carrying out a missile attack on the city of Ganja, killing 13 civilians and wounding more than 50, Reuters reported.

“They will be held responsible for that,” Aliyev said. “If the international community does not punish Armenia, we will do it.”

Ermenistan'ın füzelerle saldırdığı #Gence'de çok sayıda sivil enkaz altında kaldı. Olay yerinden ilk görüntüler kamerada.

— Yeni Şafak (@yenisafak) October 16, 2020

The attack on Azerbaijan’s second largest city came hours after shelling on Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital Stepanakert, according to Agence France Presse, marking a new escalation in the three-week conflict between ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis over the breakaway region.

The Azeri Prosecutor General’s office said 20 apartment buildings in a residential area of Ganja were hit by the missile attack, according to Reuters. An Azeri official cited by AFP said an industrial district was also hit.

The Azeri Defence Ministry said the nearby city of Mingecevir had come “under fire” around the same time, but provided no immediate details, AFP reported.

Mingecevir is protected by a missile defence system because it is home to a strategic dam, and it was not immediately clear if the missile was destroyed in the air or had made impact, AFP said.

The Armenian Defence Ministry denied Armenian forces shelling cities in Azerbaijan and accused the Azeri government of continuing to shell populated areas inside Nagorno-Karabakh, including Stepanakert, according to Reuters.

Following the attack on Ganja, the Armenian government’s online platform listed what it considered legitimate military targets in the city.

Legitimate military targets located in the Azerbaijani city of Ganja

Военные объекты, расположенные в городе Гянджа #NKpeace

— Armenian Unified Infocenter (@ArmenianUnified) October 17, 2020

Armenia also said several Azeri drones flew over settlements in Armenia, attacked military installations and damaged civilian infrastructure, Reuters reported.

Aliyev said that civilian settlements were never targeted by his forces, which he reported had completely taken over two regions previously held by Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh, Fizuli and Jabrail.

“We are dominating the battlefield,” he said.

The latest round of fighting in the mountainous enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh erupted on Sept. 27 and has since killed hundreds. It marked the biggest escalation of a decades-old conflict over the region that lies within Azerbaijan’s borders but is controlled by ethnic Armenians.

Aliyev questioned Armenia’s ability to replace military hardware destroyed in battles, a thinly veiled jab at Yerevan’s ally Moscow.

Russia is the dominant player in the Caucasus region and maintains a security pact with Armenia, a close ally. The agreement does not, however, cover Nagorno-Karabakh. Moscow has also cultivated warmer relations with Azerbaijan in recent years, and it sells weapons to both sides.

Russia brokered a ceasefire between the two countries at talks in Moscow on Oct. 9. But the agreement immediately frayed, with both sides blaming the enemy for breaching it.