Baku [Azerbaijan], September 27 (ANI): More than 50 people were killed and hundreds more were left wounded after a fuel depot explosion and fire in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, Al Jazeera reported on Tuesday.
This comes amid an exodus of ethnic Armenians from the region following a lightning military offensive by Azerbaijan.
The death toll from the blast rose to 68, while at least 105 people were missing and 290 others wounded, Al Jazeera reported citing the office of Karabakh's ombudsman.
The explosion happened outside the regional capital of Stepanakert- called Khankendi by Azerbaijan - late on Monday. The depot was being used to distribute fuel to those who wanted to leave the region by car. Hundreds of people were gathered there when the explosion took place.
Notably, last week's offensive came after a months-long blockade of the region by Azerbaijan that caused shortages of essential supplies.
The announcement of the death toll came as thousands of people continued to flee the region, with Armenia saying that 28,120 ethnic Armenians had entered the country. The government also said it would provide accommodation for all those in need, Al Jazeera reported.
US National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said the US urged humanitarian access to the region.
"We are saddened by the news that at least 68 people have been killed and hundreds injured in an explosion at a fuel depot in Nagorno-Karabakh and express deep sympathy to the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh and to all of those suffering," she said.
"We urge continued humanitarian access to Nagorno-Karabakh for all those in need," Al Jazeera quoted her as saying.
Samantha Power, head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), said the US would send USD 11.5 million in humanitarian aid.
According to Al Jazeera, Azerbaijan's military attacked Nagorno-Karabakh on September 19, announcing 24 hours later control over the enclave. The offensive forced ethnic Armenian authorities in the region to agree to lay down weapons and start "reintegration" talks, under a ceasefire agreement brokered by traditional regional powerhouse Russia, Al Jazeera reported.
Azerbaijani authorities promised to respect the rights and security of Armenians living in the region. But the news of their reintegration into Azerbaijan met panic and chaos among ethnic Armenians who feared that the long history of hatred and violence between the two would make any form of co-habitation impossible.
It is pertinent that Nagorno-Karabakh has been contested for more than three decades, with both Baku and Yerevan vying for its control. The territory is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is heavily populated by ethnic Armenians, as per Al Jazeera.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh declared their independence with the goal of reuniting with Armenia. That triggered a bloody war in the 1990s that ended with Armenians taking control of the enclave and several districts around it. (ANI)