A missile strike razed several houses in Azerbaijan’s second city, Ganja, on Saturday, with a resident telling AFP he saw seven victims emerging from the rubble.
The strike, which came hours after a bombardment against the Nagorno-Karabakh capital, Stepanakert, marked yet another escalation in the three-week conflict between ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis over the breakaway region.
An AFP team in Ganja saw a block of buildings turned to rubble, with people fleeing the scene in tears, some wearing bathrobes and pajamas, and many still in their slippers.
Dozens of rescuers wearing red helmets struggled to find survivors with bare hands in the dark as clouds of dust rose from the site.
Hours after their search began, a team loaded black bags with body parts, including a head and arm, into an ambulance.
The missile struck in the early hours of Saturday when most residents were sleeping.
Hikmat Hajiyev, an aide to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, tweeted that “according to” initial information, more than 20 houses have been destroyed “.
Another residential area of Ganja was hit by a missile that killed 10 civilians last Sunday.
– Calls for silence –
Rescuers called for silence so they could detect sounds from survivors and pulled passports, unopened delivery packages and clothing from the debris.
A sad witness to having seen a small child, two women and four men torn from the rubble, although their condition is not immediately clear.
“A woman was missing her feet. Someone else was missing an arm at their elbow, ”said Elmir Shirinzaday, 26.
AFP later saw three other people carried away on stretchers, although it was not clear whether they were dead or alive.
“My wife was there, my wife was there,” shouted an inconsolable man as he was taken to an ambulance by an ambulance driver.
Around the same time in the town of Mingecevir, an hour’s drive north of Ganja, AFP heard the impact of a huge explosion that rocked buildings.
Mingecevir is protected by a missile defense system as it houses a strategic barrage and it was not immediately clear whether the missile was destroyed in midair or if it had an impact.
The Defense Ministry said Mingecevir had been “under fire from critics” but provided no other immediate details.
An Azerbaijani official said a second missile hit a separate industrial district in Ganja around the same time.
No immediate details of this second attack were known.
The decades-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resumed on September 27 under highly controversial circumstances, threatening to lure the regional powers of Russia and Turkey.
The mountainous region of western Azerbaijan has remained under separatist ethnic Armenian control since a 1994 ceasefire ended a brutal six-year war that left 30,000 dead.
The current escalation is the deadliest and longest since that war.
The bombing of Stepanakert and the airstrikes on Ganja followed a joint call by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday to “end the bloodshed as soon as possible”.
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