Tensions rise again as Azerbaijani forces cross line of contact - report

Armenia has also accused Azerbaijan of cutting off gas supplies to Artsakh amid extreme winter weather in the area.

Ethnic Armenian soldiers stand in a trench at their position near Nagorno-Karabakh's town of Martuni, April 8, 2016.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ethnic Armenian soldiers stand in a trench at their position near Nagorno-Karabakh's town of Martuni, April 8, 2016.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Tensions are rising again between Azerbaijan and Armenia as Azerbaijani forces crossed the line of contact set after a conflict in 2020 and Armenia accused Azerbaijan of cutting off gas supplies to the country.

According to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Azeri forces opened fire in the direction of Armenian positions.

The Artsakh Defense Army reported on Friday that soldiers from Azerbaijan and Artsakh clashed in the area, with five Artaskh soldiers wounded and five Azerbaijani soldiers killed. The clashes and the casualties have not yet been confirmed by the Azerbaijani side.

The Artsakh Defense Army claimed that the Azerbaijani forces used both firearms and "suicide drones." Talks conducted by Russian peacekeeping forces had not yielded results as of Friday afternoon.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry condemned what they have described as an Azeri invasion and called on Russian peacekeeping forces to ensure an immediate withdrawal of Azeri troops to their positions as of March 23.

The de facto Republic of Artsakh's NKR InfoCenter reported on Thursday evening that Azerbaijani forces had crossed the line of contact set after the war in 2020 in the direction of the village of Parukh. Initial reports indicated that the forces had entered Parukh and surrounding areas.

The Republic of Artsakh is a de facto republic internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. Last year, the area in which the republic sits was recaptured by Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh war against Armenia.

 An Azeri soldier and police officer talk as they stand guard at the Kalbajar district, Azerbaijan, December 21, 2020 (credit: AZIZ KARIMOV/REUTERS) An Azeri soldier and police officer talk as they stand guard at the Kalbajar district, Azerbaijan, December 21, 2020 (credit: AZIZ KARIMOV/REUTERS)

Women and children from the nearby village of Khramort were evacuated for security reasons, with the government of the de facto republic urging the population to remain calm as the situation along the rest of the line of contact remained stable.

As of Thursday evening, Russian peacekeepers were conducting talks with the Azerbaijani forces and the movement of the Azerbaijani troops had halted, although they had not left the area.

Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry rejected the reports, saying: "Information spread by Armenian sources about the situation along with the territory of Azerbaijan, where the Russian peacekeeping contingent is temporarily stationed, have allegedly escalated does not reflect reality.

"Positions and places of deployment are being clarified at the checkpoint, no clashes or incidents have occurred," added the Defense Ministry. "The situation is artificially exaggerated by Armenian sources. The purpose is to create an atmosphere that can trigger deliberate hysteria, confuse and mislead the public. There is no reason to worry or panic."

The Defense Ministry did not explicitly deny that Azerbaijani forces had crossed the line of contact.

In recent days, Armenian authorities have reported that Azerbaijan has cut off a natural gas line to the Artsakh Republic. The pipeline, which goes through Azerbaijani-held territory, had in the past been damaged in an explosion and was repaired by Azerbaijan, who Armenia says added a valve to the line.

On Monday, the line was closed, cutting off the natural gas supply to Artsakh amid extremely cold weather conditions and snowfall. This is the second time in a matter of weeks that the line has been closed.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan warned that Artsakh is "on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe." 

Pashinyan argued that Azerbaijan is attempting to drag Armenia into war, stressing that the pipeline was closed right after Armenia expressed approval for peace agenda proposals offered by Azerbaijan and interest in moving forward with peace talks.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry condemned the violation of the line of contact and the cutting off of the gas line, saying the actions "once again demonstrate that official Baku continues to grossly violate" ceasefire agreements made at the end of the conflict in 2020. The ministry referred to the actions as steps aimed at "ethnic cleansing."

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova urged the two countries to solve the issue as soon as possible, stressing that "the already tense situation should not be aggravated by any action."

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu discussed the tense situation, as well as other issues of mutual interest with Armenian Defense Minister Suren Papikyan on Thursday evening, according to RIA Novosti.

In 2020, a slightly more than month-long war broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and nearby areas, ending with a new line of contact drawn. Sporadic clashes have been reported along the line since the war.

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.