At least 20 people were killed and around 300 others sustained injuries by an explosion at a gas station as people seeking to flee to Armenia lined up for fuel, separatist authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh said on Tuesday (September 26).
In the incident, 13 bodies have been found while seven succumbed to their injuries in the explosion at the gas station outside the regional capital of Stepanakert late Monday, the breakaway region’s health department said.
According to the department, 290 people have been hospitalised, among whom several remain critical.
The explosion took place as the people arrived at the station to refuel their cars in order to leave the region. Thousands of Nagorno-Karabakh residents are leaving the region and fleeing to Armenia after Azerbaijan’s military launched a swift operation to fully reclaim the region following a three-decade separatist rule.
The Azerbaijani military routed Armenian forces in a 24-hour blitz last week, forcing the separatist authorities to agree to lay down weapons and start talks on Nagorno-Karabakh’s “reintegration” into Azerbaijan.
Though Azerbaijan has assured to respect the rights of ethnic Armenians in the region and reactivate supplies after blocking it for 10 months, several locals feared reprisals and decided to flee to Armenia.
According to the Armenian government, over 6,500 Nagorno-Karabakh residents had entered Armenia till Monday evening. Moscow said that Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh were assisting the evacuation. Nearly 700 people stayed in the peacekeepers’ camp by Monday night.
Nagorno-Karabakh came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces, backed by the Armenian military, in separatist fighting that ended in 1994. During the war in 2020, Azerbaijan took back parts of Nagorno-Karabakh along with surrounding territory that Armenian forces had claimed during the earlier conflict.
Nagorno-Karabakh - a mountainous region in the South Caucasus - is known as part of Azerbaijan internationally, however, it has been controlled by ethnic Armenians for three decades.
The enclave has been supported by Armenia. Russia also has had hundreds of soldiers there for a number of years.
(With AP inputs)