Eastern European Conflict Spirals Out of Control Again with 'Inhumane' Rocket Attack on Hospital

Rockets hit a hospital and residential areas on Wednesday amid deadly fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh that has raged for more than a month despite a U.S.-brokered cease-fire.

In Nagorno-Karabakh, an Azerbaijani rocket hit a maternity hospital but inflicted no casualties.

Azerbaijani authorities denied responsibility and in turn accused Armenia of launching a rocket strike on the town of Barda that killed more than 20 civilians and wounded over 70.

Armenia rejected the accusations.

Nagorno-Karabakh officials said Azerbaijani forces hit Stepanakert, the region’s capital, and the nearby town of Shushi with Soviet-designed rockets intended to ravage wide areas.

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One civilian was killed in Shushi and two more were wounded, officials said.

There were no patients or medical personnel in the maternity hospital in Stepanakert at the moment of the strike, which also damaged adjacent premises of a sprawling medical center filled with patients.

Mger Musailyan, the center’s chief doctor, denounced the attack as “inhumane.”

“This is absurd to attack a hospital. It’s prohibited in the whole world,” Musailyan said.

Inna Gasparyan, the chief nurse, said the patients are helpless.

“Those patients who are here, they are all on breathing machines, they are very sick and they cannot be evacuated to the basement,” she said.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry denied hitting the maternity hospital and targeting other civilian areas and in turn accused Armenian forces of firing at the Azerbaijani towns of Terter and Barda.

The strike on Barda killed at least 21 civilians, including children, and wounded more than 70, Azerbaijani officials said.

Armenian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanian called the accusations “groundless and false.”

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev promised on Twitter a “befitting response” for the strike.

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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 latest fighting, which began Sept. 27, has involved heavy artillery, rockets and drones in the largest escalation of hostilities over the region in the quarter-century since the war ended.

Hundreds, and possibly thousands, of people have been killed.

The fighting has raged for over a month despite international calls for peace and three attempts at establishing a ceasefire.

The latest U.S.-brokered truce frayed immediately after it took effect on Monday, just like two previous ceasefires negotiated by Russia. The warring sides blamed each other for violations.

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According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, 1,068 of their troops and 39 civilians have been killed in the clashes so far, while 122 civilians have been wounded.

Azerbaijani authorities haven’t disclosed their military losses, but say the fighting has killed 69 civilians and wounded 322.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that, according to Moscow’s information, the death toll from the fighting was nearing 5,000, significantly higher than what both sides report.

Azerbaijan’s leader claimed in an interview published Wednesday that about 5,000 Armenian soldiers have been killed — a claim denied by the Armenian military.

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 the conflict, but they have failed to score any progress.

Aliyev has repeatedly criticized the Minsk Group for failing to achieve any results in three decades and insisted that Azerbaijan has the right to reclaim its territory by force since international mediation has failed.

The Minsk Group’s co-chairs are set to meet with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Geneva on Thursday, but prospects for progress appear dim.

Turkey, which has thrown its weight behind Azerbaijan in the conflict, has sought to take a more prominent role in the peace talks — something Armenia has vehemently opposed.

Russia, which has a military base in Armenia and a security agreement to protect its ally, has been involved in a delicate diplomatic game while trying to also maintain good ties with Azerbaijan and avoid a showdown with Turkey.

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