Two French and two Armenian journalists have been injured in Nagorno-Karabakh, where heavy fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces this week marked the biggest escalation in years of a decades-old conflict.
Two Le Monde reporters were wounded on Thursday in the town of Martuni, the newspaper said. Armenia’s Foreign Ministry said they were being taken to hospital, and accused Azerbaijan of bombarding the Martuni region, in eastern Nagorno-Karabakh.
A cameraman with the Armenia TV channel and a reporter with the Armenian 24News outlet also sustained injuries in the Martuni shelling, Armenian officials said. It was unclear how badly the four journalists were hurt. A Russian journalist with the independent Dozhd TV channel was reported to have safely reached a bomb shelter.
French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters on arrival at a European Union summit in Brussels that a plane was ready to repatriate the two injured French journalists.
Later on Thursday, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry official Twitter account retweeted a post claiming that international journalists were under attack by Armenian forces, referring to shelling by Armenia on the Azerbaijani city Terter, about 90km (56 miles) from Nagorno-Karabakh. In that attack, Azerbaijan’s prosecutor general’s office said one civilian was killed.
Clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region inside Azerbaijan that has been controlled by ethnic Armenian forces backed by the Armenian government since the end of a war a quarter-century ago, broke out on Sunday and continued unchecked, killing dozens and leaving scores wounded.
Armenian and Azerbaijani forces have been blaming each other for continuing attacks.
The death toll has been rising rapidly, with both sides reporting civilian casualties. Armenia has recorded 104 military deaths, as well as 23 civilians deaths.
Azerbaijan’s Defence Ministry said its forces have killed 2,300 Armenia-backed troops and “destroyed 130 tanks, 200 artillery units, 25 anti-aircraft units, five ammunition depots, 50 anti-tank units and 55 military vehicles”.
Armenia claimed that Azerbaijan had lost 130 soldiers, while 200 others were wounded.
Al Jazeera was unable to verify either side’s claims of casualties.
‘Militants from illegal armed groups’
The president of Azerbaijan said Armenia’s withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh was the sole condition to end the fighting.
Armenian officials claim Turkey has become involved in the conflict, allegedly sending fighters from Syria to the region and deploying Turkish F-16 fighter jets to assist Azerbaijani forces.
Turkey has publicly supported Azerbaijan in the conflict and said it would provide assistance if requested, but denies sending in foreign mercenaries or arms.
Continued fighting in the turbulent region prompted calls for a ceasefire from around the globe and raised concerns of a broader conflict potentially involving other regional powers.
Macron’s office said in a statement that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the issue in a phone call on Wednesday night, and both “share concern about the sending of Syrian mercenaries by Turkey to Nagorno-Karabakh”.
Macron’s office did not provide further information about the mercenaries.
The Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday expressed concerns over reports about “militants from illegal armed groups, in particular from Syria, Libya” being sent to the conflict zone in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The ministry did not provide further details, but in a statement urged the “leadership of the states concerned to take effective measures to prevent the use of foreign terrorists and mercenaries in the conflict”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday refused to comment on Turkey’s alleged involvement in the conflict but said “any statements about military support for one of the [opposing] sides” can provoke a further escalation of tensions in the region.
“We believe that any participation of third countries in this confrontation can also have extremely negative consequences,” Peskov told reporters.