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Fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh goes on despite US mediation

Rocket and artillery barrage hit residential areas Saturday hours after the United States hosted top diplomats from Armenia and Azerbaijan for talks on settling their decades-long conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

The heavy shelling forced residents of Stepanakert, the regional capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, into shelters, as emergency teams rushed to extinguish fires.

Nagorno-Karabakh authorities said other towns in the region were also targeted by Azerbaijani artillery fire. There was no immediate information about casualties.

Citizens inspect a car destroyed during a shelling by Azerbaijan's artillery during a military conflict in Stepanakert, the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Heavy fighting raged Friday over Nagorno-Karabakh even as top diplomats from Armenia and Azerbaijan visited Washington for negotiations on settling the neighboring countries' decades-long conflict. (AP Photo)

Officials in Azerbaijan claimed that the town of Terter and areas in the Gubadli region came under Armenian shelling early Saturday, killing a teenager. They said that another 13-year-old boy died Saturday of wounds he received in an earlier shelling of Ganja, Azerbaijan's second-largest city.

Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994. The current fighting that started Sept. 27 marks the worst escalation in the conflict since the war’s end.

After two failed attempts by Russia to broker a truce, the U.S. waded onto the scene on Friday, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosting the Armenian and Azerbaijan foreign ministers for separate talks.

Men sit in a bomb shelter during shelling by Azerbaijan's artillery during a military conflict in Stepanakert, the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Heavy fighting raged Friday over Nagorno-Karabakh even as top diplomats from Armenia and Azerbaijan visited Washington for negotiations on settling the neighboring countries' decades-long conflict. (AP Photo)

“Both must implement a ceasefire and return to substantive negotiations,” Pompeo said in a tweet after the negotiations.

“Just now a bomb exploded in my garden,” Georgiy, a resident of Stepanakert who only gave his first name amid the war jitters, said after the overnight attack. “If this is the so-called cease-fire, let the whole world see this cease-fire.”

Georgiy, who was born in Stepanakert, said he would stay home despite the fighting.

In this photo provided by the Armenian Prime Minister Press Service via PAN Photo, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan speaks to a wounded serviceman as he visits a military hospital in Yerevan, Armenia, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Heavy fighting is raging over Nagorno-Karabakh even as top diplomats from Armenia and Azerbaijan have traveled to Washington for negotiations on settling the neighboring countries’ decades-long conflict. (Tigran Mehrabyan, Armenian Prime Minister Press ServicePAN Photo via AP)

“This is my motherland, I’m not going to leave it,” he said. "All the people will stand until the last.”

According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, 927 of their troops have been killed, and 37 civilians also have died. Azerbaijan hasn’t disclosed its military losses, but said that over 60 civilians were killed and about 300 were wounded.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that according to Moscow’s information, the death toll from the fighting was significantly higher than officially reported by the warring parties, nearing 5,000.

In this photo provided by the Armenian Prime Minister Press Service via PAN Photo, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan arrives to visit a military hospital in Yerevan, Armenia, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Heavy fighting is raging over Nagorno-Karabakh even as top diplomats from Armenia and Azerbaijan have traveled to Washington for negotiations on settling the neighboring countries’ decades-long conflict. (Tigran Mehrabyan, Armenian Prime Minister Press ServicePAN Photo via AP)

Russia, the United States and France have co-chaired the so-called Minsk Group set up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to mediate in the conflict, but they haven't scored any progress after nearly three decades.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has said that to end hostilities Armenian forces must withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh. He has insisted that Azerbaijan has the right to reclaim its territory by force since international mediators have failed.

Turkey has thrown its weight behind Azerbaijan, vowing to support its longtime ally “on the battlefield or the negotiating table.” It has trained Azerbaijani military and provided it with strike drones and long-range rocket systems that gave Azerbaijan a strong edge on the battlefield.

Shepherd Kim Mkrtchian armed with a Kalashnikov drives cows and sheep away from the front line near the town of Martuni, the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Heavy fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh is continuing with Armenia and Azerbaijan trading blame for new attacks. Two Russia-brokered cease-fires collapsed instantly after taking effect, and the warring parties have continued to exchange blows with heavy artillery, rockets and drones. (AP Photo)

Armenian officials say Turkey is directly involved in the conflict and is sending Syrian mercenaries to fight on Azerbaijan’s side. Turkey has denied deploying combatants to the region, but a Syrian war monitor and Syria-based opposition activists have confirmed that Turkey has sent hundreds of Syrian opposition fighters to fight in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Avet Demourian in Yerevan, Armenia, Aida Sultanova in London and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

Shepherd Kim Mkrtchian armed with a Kalashnikov drives cows and sheep away from the front line near the town of Martuni, the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Heavy fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh is continuing with Armenia and Azerbaijan trading blame for new attacks. Two Russia-brokered cease-fires collapsed instantly after taking effect, and the warring parties have continued to exchange blows with heavy artillery, rockets and drones. (AP Photo)

Smoke rises during fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijan's forces in the Karabakh mountains, the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Heavy fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh is continuing with Armenia and Azerbaijan trading blame for new attacks. Two Russia-brokered cease-fires collapsed instantly after taking effect, and the warring parties have continued to exchange blows with heavy artillery, rockets and drones. (AP Photo)

A tail of a multiple rocket 'Smerch' sticks out of the ground near the town of Martuni, the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Heavy fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh is continuing with Armenia and Azerbaijan trading blame for new attacks. Two Russia-brokered cease-fires collapsed instantly after taking effect, and the warring parties have continued to exchange blows with heavy artillery, rockets and drones. (AP Photo)

An apartment through a shell-pierced wall after shelling by Azerbaijan's artillery during a military conflict in the town of Martuni, the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Heavy fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh is continuing with Armenia and Azerbaijan trading blame for new attacks. Two Russia-brokered cease-fires collapsed instantly after taking effect, and the warring parties have continued to exchange blows with heavy artillery, rockets and drones. (AP Photo)

Sunlight breaks through over the Karabakh mountains, the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Heavy fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh is continuing with Armenia and Azerbaijan trading blame for new attacks. Two Russia-brokered cease-fires collapsed instantly after taking effect, and the warring parties have continued to exchange blows with heavy artillery, rockets and drones. (AP Photo)

A man smokes and looks through the window of his apartment in Stepanakert, the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Heavy fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh is continuing with Armenia and Azerbaijan trading blame for new attacks. Two Russia-brokered cease-fires collapsed instantly after taking effect, and the warring parties have continued to exchange blows with heavy artillery, rockets and drones. (AP Photo)

A shop damaged by Azerbaijan's artillery during military conflict in the town of Martuni, the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Heavy fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh is continuing with Armenia and Azerbaijan trading blame for new attacks. Two Russia-brokered cease-fires collapsed instantly after taking effect, and the warring parties have continued to exchange blows with heavy artillery, rockets and drones. (AP Photo)

In this image taken from video released by Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, Azerbaijan army soldiers fire an artillery piece during fighting with forces of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev said that to end hostilities Armenian forces must withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh. He has insisted that Azerbaijan has the right to reclaim its territory by force after nearly three decades of international mediation yielded no progress. (Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry via AP)

In this image taken from video released by Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, Azerbaijan's army artillery fire during fighting with forces of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev said that to end hostilities Armenian forces must withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh. He has insisted that Azerbaijan has the right to reclaim its territory by force after nearly three decades of international mediation yielded no progress. (Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry via AP)