‘Two helicopters shot down’ as Azerbaijan and Armenia clash over disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region

Armenia says it has shot down two Azerbaijani helicopters and destroyed three tanks in fighting around the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The breakaway region’s defence ministry claimed it had destroyed four Azeri helicopters, 15 drones and 10 tanks during clashes early on Sunday.

Armenia’s defence ministry said the latest incident began with an Azerbaijani attack – while Azerbaijan said the Armenian side attacked first and that they had launched a counter-offensive.

Both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh declared martial law and military mobilisation. However, Azerbaijan’s army said there was no need for them to do this as they are fully staffed.

The Armenian defence ministry has released video footage that shows the attack on the vehicles, it says.

It said its troops had acted in response to an attack on civilian targets including Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital, Stepanakert.

“Our response will be proportionate, and the military-political leadership of Azerbaijan bears full responsibility for the situation,” it said in a statement.

Both sides have reported civilian deaths.

Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Twitter: “We stay strong next to our army to protect our motherland from Azeri invasion.”

Hikmet Hajiyev, senior adviser to Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, accused Armenian forces of launching “deliberate and targeted” attacks.

Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said Armenia had attacked civilian settlements and military positions along the “contact line,” a heavily-mined no-man’s-land that separates the Armenian-backed forces from Azeri troops in the region.

It said some civilians had been killed “as a result of the intensive shelling” by Armenia, and that Azerbaijan had taken retaliatory measures.

The ministry said Azerbaijan’s army launched a “counter-offensive operation along the entire front to suppress the combat activity of the armed forces of Armenia and ensure the safety of the civilian population”.

Turkey has demanded Armenia cease “hostilities”, saying it risks plunging the region “into fire”, while France has urged both sides to stop fighting and restart dialogue.

The two countries have long been at odds over the breakaway region, a conflict that has flared up again in recent months.

Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence from Azerbaijan soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Though a ceasefire was agreed in 1994, Azerbaijan and Armenia frequently accuse each other of attacks around the area and along the separate Azeri-Armenian frontier.

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