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Azerbaijan: Unilateral cease-fire against Nagorno-Karabakh

Rebel forces have disputed reports of a cease fire, after a weekend of attacks that killed 30 troops on both sides. The violence was the worst in the conflict since 1994.

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    In this image made from video on Sunday, April 3, 2016, a Grad missile is fired by Azerbaijani forces in the village of Gapanli, Azerbaijan. Officials in Azerbaijan and the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh say fighting is persisting a day after the worst outburst of hostilities in nearly 20 years killed 30 soldiers. Nagorno-Karabakh, part of Azerbaijan, has been under the control of local ethnic Armenian forces and the Armenian military since a war ended in 1994 with no resolution of the region's status.
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Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry announced a unilateral cease-fire Sunday against the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a claim that rebel forces there promptly rejected.

Fighting in what was a dormant conflict for two decades flared up over the weekend with a boy and at least 30 troops killed on both sides. Each side blamed the other for Saturday's escalation, the worst since the end of a full-scale war in 1994.

The defense ministry said, in response to pleas from international organizations, it will be unilaterally "suspending a counter-offensive and response on the territories occupied by Armenia." The ministry added it will not focus on fortifying the territory that Azerbaijan has "liberated." It did not elaborate.

Nagorno-Karabakh, a region in Azerbaijan, has been under the control of local ethnic Armenian forces and the Armenian military since a war ended in 1994 with no resolution of the region's status. The conflict is fueled by long-simmering tensions between Christian Armenians and mostly Muslim Azeris.

Armenian forces also occupy several areas outside Nagorno-Karabakh proper. The sides are separated by a demilitarized buffer zone, but small clashes have broken out frequently.

Officials in the self-proclaimed republic of Nagorno-Karabakh promptly disputed the reports of Azerbaijan's unilateral cease-fire. David Babayan, spokesman for the Karabakh president, told The Associated Press on Sunday that they had not seen any signs that fighting was suspended.

The defense ministry of Nagorno-Karabakh on Sunday also claimed to have restored control over a strategic area near the front line. It said Nagorno-Karabakh forces went on a counter-offensive around the village of Talish after Azerbaijani forces shelled their positions just before dawn. Two Karabakh troops were reported injured.

It also said Azerbaijan was using rockets, artillery and armor against the region.

Earlier Sunday, a spokesman for Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry, Vagif Dargyakhly, said Azerbaijani positions came under fire overnight and that civilian areas also were hit.

On Saturday, Armenia said 18 soldiers were killed and Azerbaijan reported 12 dead.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed Sunday to back its ally Azerbaijan in the conflict, saying that the flare-up could have been avoided if "fair and decisive steps" had been taken.

"We pray our Azerbaijani brothers will prevail in these clashes with the least casualties," he said.

The unresolved conflict has been an economic blow to Armenia because Turkey has closed its border with Armenia.

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Avet Demourian in Yerevan, Armenia, and Dominique Soguel in Istanbul contributed to this report.

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