Nagorno-Karabakh reports 44 new military deaths in Azerbaijan clashes, toll now 1,221

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The defense ministry of the Nagorno-Karabakh said on Monday it had recorded another 44 casualties among its military, pushing its military death toll to 1,221 since fighting with Azeri forces erupted on September 27.

Fighting has surged to its worst level since the 1990s, when about 30,000 people were killed.

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Armenia said on Monday that fighting was continuing for the key town of Shusha in Nagorno-Karabakh, a day after Azerbaijan claimed to have captured it from Armenian separatist forces.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev announced on Sunday his forces had taken Shusha, known to Armenians as Shushi, a strategically vital town that is the second-largest in the disputed region.

Armenian officials denied the claim and said clashes in the area were ongoing.

“Intensive combat has been waged in the Shushi-Karintak sector,” Armenian defense ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan said on Twitter, referring to a village at the base of cliffs on which the town sits.

“The enemy has retreated, while friendly forces have occupied more favorable lines,” she said.

The capture of Shusha would be a major victory for Azerbaijan six weeks after new fighting erupted over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave that broke away from Azerbaijan's control in the 1990s.

The fortress town lies around 15 kilometers (nine miles) from the enclave's largest city Stepanakert and on the main road to Armenia, which backs the separatists.

New clashes broke out in late September between Azerbaijan and the separatists over Karabakh, which declared independence nearly 30 years ago.

That declaration has not been recognized internationally, even by Armenia, and it remains a part of Azerbaijan under international law.

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