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Clashes over separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh continue

Fighting over the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region continued Sunday, as Armenia and Azerbaijan reiterated their commitment to a peaceful resolution of their decades-old conflict and blamed each other for hindering one after four weeks of military engagement.

Nagorno-Karabakh's military accused Azerbaijani forces of shelling civilian settlements in the areas of Martuni and Askeran on Saturday evening and said that battles “on all directions of the frontline" took place on Sunday morning. Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry, in turn, alleged that Armenian forces shelled the Terter, Agdam and Aghjabedi regions of Azerbaijan.

The recent outburst of fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, which broke out on Sept. 27, has gone on despite numerous calls for the cessation of hostilities and two attempts at establishing a cease-fire. It is the biggest escalation in years over the region that lies withiin Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since the end of a separatist war in 1994.

According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, 974 of their troops have been killed in the clashes so far, as well as 37 civilians. Azerbaijani authorities hasn't disclosed their military losses, but said that 65 civilians were killed and about 300 were wounded on their side.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that according to Moscow’s information, the death toll from the fighting neared 5,000, which is significantly higher than what both sides report.

Russia brokered two cease-fire agreements earlier this month, but both frayed immediately, with Armenian and Azerbaijani forces accusing each other of multiple violations. On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted the Armenian and Azerbaijan foreign ministers for separate talks, but the fighting has continued unabated.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has said that Armenian forces must withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh to end the conflict and that Azerbaijan has the right to reclaim its territory by force after nearly three decades of international mediation yielded no progress.

In an interview released Saturday, Aliyev said that he wants the fighting to stop and the warring parties to “move to the negotiating table.” He said he was “absolutely confident” there was a peaceful way to resolve the conflic, but that “it depends on the will of the Armenian side.”

“The Armenian prime minister.. said that there is no diplomatic solution to the conflict,” Aliyev alleged.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has repeatedly said that Armenia is ready for a peaceful resolution of the dispute and it was Azerbaijan that wouldn't agree to a compromise, Pashinian's spokeswoman, Mane Gevogryan, told the Interfax news agency Sunday.

“He said that when Armenia expresses readiness for a compromise, Azerbaijan demands more,” Gevorgyan said.

The four weeks of fighting has prompted concerns of a wider conflict involving Turkey, which has thrown its weight behind Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a security pact with Armenia.

Armenian officials accuse Turkey of being directly involved in the conflict and sending Syrian mercenaries to fight on Azerbaijan's side, claims both Turkey and Azerbaijan deny.

In the Saturday interview, Aliyev charged that Armenia was seeking Russia's military support in the conflict zone, and warned that it was “very dangerous.”

Associated Press writer Daria Litvinova in Moscow contributed to this report.