A missile strike struck several homes in Azerbaijan’s second city of Ganja on Saturday, with one resident telling AFP he saw seven victims pulled out of the trash.
The strike, which came hours after the gun attack in the Nagorno-Karabakh capital Stepanakert, marked a new increase in the three-week rivalry between ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the separatist region.
An AFP group in Ganja found a block of buildings that had collapsed, with people fleeing the area in tears, some wearing bathrooms and pajamas, and still many of their house slippers. .
Dozens of rescuers wearing red helmets struggled to find survivors with their bare hands in the dark as clouds of dust lifted from the site.
A few hours into their search, a team carried black bags containing body parts in an ambulance, along with a head and an arm.
The missile exploded in the early hours of Saturday as most of the residents were asleep.
Hikmat Hajiyev, an aide to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, tweeted that according to “preliminary information, more than 20 houses were destroyed”;.
Another residential district of Ganja was hit by a missile that killed 10 civilians last Sunday.
– Calls for silence –
Rescuers called for silence so they could see the sound of the survivors, and issued passports, unopened delivery packages, and clothing items from the remains.
One 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 lost her legs. Another lost an arm at the elbow,” said Elmir Shirinzaday, 26.
The AFP later saw three other people taken on stretchers, though it was not clear if they were dead or alive.
“My husband is there, my wife is there,” one man did not cry as he walked towards an ambulance of a paramedic.
At about the same time in the city of Mingecevir, an hour drive north of Ganja, the AFP heard the impact of a massive explosion that shook buildings.
Mingecevir is protected by a missile defense system because it is home to a strategic dam, and it is not yet clear if the missile was destroyed in the air or caused an impact.
The defense ministry said Mingecevir was “burned”, but did not provide any immediate details.
An Azerbaijani official said the second missile hit a separate, industrial district of Ganja at about the same time.
No immediate details were known about that second attack.
The only decade-long Karabakh conflict erupted again on September 27 in hotly debated events, threatening to draw on Russian and Turkish regional powers.
The mountainous region of Azerbaijan has remained under the control of the Armenian separatist ethnic group since the end of a ceasefire in 1994 by a brutal six-year war that killed 30,000.
The current addition is the longest and longest since that war.
The Stepanakert explosion and the Ganja strike followed a joint call from Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday to “end the bloodshed as soon as possible.”
zak / rma