A missile attack leveled several homes in Azerbaijan’s second city of Ganja on Saturday, where a resident told AFP he saw seven victims pulled out of the rubble.
The strike, which came hours after a shelling attack on the Nagorno-Karabakh capital Stepanakert, marked a new escalation in the three-week conflict between ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis over the separatist region.
An AFP team in Ganja saw a building complex that was turned into rubble, where people fled the scene with tears, some wearing bathrobes and pajamas, and many still in the slippers of the home.
Dozens of rescuers in red helmets struggled to find survivors with their bare hands in the dark as clouds of dust lifted from the site.
A few hours after their search, a team brought black bags containing body parts into an ambulance, including the head and arm.
The missile hit in the early hours of Saturday while most residents were asleep.
Hikmat Hajiyev, an assistant to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, tweeted that according to “original information, more than 20 houses were destroyed”
Another residential area in Ganja was hit by a missile that killed 10 civilians last Sunday.
– Encourages silence –
Rescuers called for silence so they could detect sounds from survivors, and pulled out passports, unopened delivery packages and clothing from the trash.
A witness was sad that he saw a small child, two women and four men pulled out of the rubble, although their condition was not immediately clear.
“One woman was missing her feet. Another was missing an arm at the elbow,” said Elmir Shirinzaday, 26.
AFP later saw three more people carried on stretchers, although it was not clear whether they were dead or alive.
“My wife was there, my wife was there,” a man cried inconsolably as he was walked toward an ambulance by a paramedic.
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 shook buildings.
Mingecevir is protected by a missile defense system because it is home to a strategic dam, and it was not immediately clear whether the missile was destroyed in the air or had an impact.
The Ministry of Defense said Mingecevir had come “under fire”, but provided no other immediate details.
An Azerbaijani official said another 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 erupted again on September 27 under highly controversial circumstances, threatening to withdraw regional powers from Russia and Turkey.
The mountainous western region of Azerbaijan has remained under separatist ethnic Armenian control since a ceasefire in 1994 ended a brutal six-year war that killed 30,000.
The current escalation is the deadliest and longest since the war.
The shelling of Stepanakert and the strikes against 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.”
zak / rma