Azerbaijan and Armenian Forces Reach Ceasefire Deal for Nagorno-Karabakh

A view shows civilians during an evacuation performed by Russian peacekeepers at an unknown location following the launch of a military operation by Azerbaijani forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region inhabited by ethnic Armenians, in this still image from video published September 20, 2023. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
A view shows civilians during an evacuation performed by Russian peacekeepers at an unknown location following the launch of a military operation by Azerbaijani forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region inhabited by ethnic Armenians, in this still image from video published September 20, 2023. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
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Azerbaijan and Armenian Forces Reach Ceasefire Deal for Nagorno-Karabakh

A view shows civilians during an evacuation performed by Russian peacekeepers at an unknown location following the launch of a military operation by Azerbaijani forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region inhabited by ethnic Armenians, in this still image from video published September 20, 2023. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
A view shows civilians during an evacuation performed by Russian peacekeepers at an unknown location following the launch of a military operation by Azerbaijani forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region inhabited by ethnic Armenians, in this still image from video published September 20, 2023. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS

A ceasefire agreement with Azerbaijan was reached on Wednesday to end two days of fighting in the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region, local authorities and Azerbaijani officials said.

The agreement was to go into effect at 1 p.m. local time (0900 GMT), and talks between Azerbaijani officials and the breakaway region's ethnic Armenian authorities on its “re-integration” into Azerbaijan were scheduled to take place on Thursday in the Azerbaijani city of Yevlakh.

The deal was reached through negotiations with the Russian peacekeeping contingent in the region, local officials said. It envisions the withdrawal of Armenian military units and equipment from Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as disarming the local defense forces, Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry confirmed.

It comes a day after Azerbaijan launched military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh and used heavy artillery fire on Armenian positions there, an attack that local officials said killed or wounded scores of people, The Associated Press reported.

Azerbaijan has called the artillery fire an “anti-terrorist operation” and said it will continue until the separatist government of Nagorno-Karabakh dismantles itself and “illegal Armenian military formations” surrender.

It claimed to be only targeting military sites but significant damage is visible on the streets of the regional capital, Stepanakert, with shop windows blown out and vehicles punctured, apparently by shrapnel.

The blasts reverberated around Stepanakert every few minutes on Wednesday morning, with some explosions in the distance and others closer to the city.

The escalation has raised concerns that a full-scale war in the region could resume between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which for more than three decades have been locked in a struggle over the mountainous territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. The most recent heavy fighting there occurred over six weeks in 2020.

Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry announced the start of the military operation hours after it reported that four soldiers and two civilians died in land mine explosions in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The ministry did not immediately give details but said that front-line positions and the military assets of Armenia’s armed forces were being “incapacitated using high-precision weapons,” and that only legitimate military targets were being attacked.

Russia's defense ministry said Wednesday that its peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh had evacuated more than 2,000 civilians, but did not give details on where they were taken.

Armenia’s Foreign Ministry, however, denied that its weapons or troops were in Nagorno-Karabakh and called reported sabotage and land mines in the region “a lie.” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashiyan alleged that Azerbaijan’s main goal is to draw Armenia into hostilities.

Ethnic Armenian officials in Nagorno-Karabakh said in a statement that Stepanakert and villages in the region were “under intense shelling.” The region’s military said Azerbaijan was using aircraft, artillery and missile systems, as well as drones in the fighting.

Residents of Stepanakert moved to basements and bomb shelters, and the fighting cut off electricity. Food shortages persisted in the area, with limited humanitarian aid delivered Monday not distributed due to the shelling, which resumed in the evening after halting briefly in the afternoon.

Nagorno-Karabakh human rights ombudsman Geghan Stepanyan said Wednesday that 32 people, including seven civilians, were killed and more than 200 others were wounded. Stepanyan earlier said one child was among those killed, and 11 children were among the wounded.

The Azerbaijani Prosecutor General’s Office said Armenian forces fired at Shusha, a city in Nagorno-Karabakh under Azerbaijan’s control, from large-caliber weapons, killing one civilian.

Neither claim could be independently verified.



Biden Battles COVID and Democrats as Crisis Grows

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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Biden Battles COVID and Democrats as Crisis Grows

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Joe Biden holed up at his beach house Thursday, battling both a bout of COVID and calls by senior allies for him to abandon his 2024 reelection bid.

While rival Donald Trump prepared for his star turn at the Republican National Convention, the 81-year-old US president found himself in both personal and political isolation.

The top Democrats in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, both reportedly met with Biden in recent days to warn that his candidacy threatens his party's prospects in November's election.

Influential former House speaker Nancy Pelosi added to his woes by privately telling Biden he cannot win and could harm Democrats' chances of recapturing the lower chamber, CNN reported.

Several party figures were meanwhile quoted anonymously by the Axios news outlet as saying that they believed the pressure would persuade Biden to drop out as soon as this weekend.

Biden has insisted he is not backing down, adamant that he is the candidate who beat Trump before and will do it again this year. Pressed about reports that Biden might be softening to the idea of leaving the race, his deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks said Thursday: “He is not wavering on anything.”

"He's staying in the race," Fulks told a press conference on the sidelines of the Republican convention in Milwaukee.

"Our campaign is not working through any scenarios where President Biden is not the top of the ticket -- he is and will be the Democratic nominee."

California Senator Alex Padilla said Biden was "not skipping a beat."

"I know having spoken to him personally he's committed to the campaign," he added.

Using mountains of data showing Biden’s standing could wipe out the ranks of Democrats in Congress, frank conversations in public and private, and now, the president’s own time off the campaign trail after testing positive for COVID-19, many Democrats see an opportunity to encourage a reassessment.

Biden told reporters on Wednesday that he was "doing well."

His COVID diagnosis however came at the worst possible time for his campaign, forcing him to cut short a trip to Las Vegas and isolate at his holiday home in Rehoboth, Delaware.

The split-screen with Trump could not have been more stark, with Trump set to formally accept the Republican nomination in Milwaukee.

US networks showed images of frail looking Biden gingerly descending the steps of Air Force One in Delaware, in a week when Trump is lauded by supporters each night at a packed party convention.

Former president Trump, who at 78 is just three years younger than Biden, is riding a wave of support from his party after surviving an assassination attempt on Saturday that left him with a bandaged ear.

The United States could now be approaching the climax of an extraordinary three weeks in politics, which started when Biden gave a disastrous performance during a televised debate with Trump.

Biden blamed jet lag and a cold, but the fact that America's commander-in-chief has now fallen ill for a second time just as fears grow about his fitness for the job has merely intensified the panic in Democratic ranks.