BAKU: Russia is considering an Iranian proposal for ending the conflict in the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh after three ceasefires failed to halt fighting that is now in its sixth week.
Interfax news agency quoted deputy Russian foreign minister Andrei Rudenko as saying Iran's proposal was made by deputy foreign minister Abbas Abaqchi during a visit to Moscow last week, but gave no details.
"We're looking carefully at it," Rudenko told journalists.
At least 1,000 people, and possibly many more, have been killed since fighting broke out on Sep 27 in Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians.
The worst fighting in more than 25 years has underlined the influence of Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan, in the South Caucasus, a region that was once part of the Soviet Union and long dominated by Moscow, which has a defence pact with Armenia.
Russian news agencies reported last week that Iran had proposed a leading role in peace negotiations for countries in the region. Russia, it said, would be one of these countries.
Negotiations have for decades been led by Russia, France and the United States in their roles as co-chairs of a panel known as the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), a security and rights watchdog.
Within hours of an agreement being reached with the warring sides on Friday not to target civilians, attacks resumed, and concerns remain about the security of oil and gas pipelines in Azerbaijan.
Advances on the battlefield have reduced Azerbaijan's incentive to reach a lasting peace deal and complicated international efforts to broker a ceasefire - in which Turkey wants a bigger role.
Azerbaijan's defence ministry reported combat operations on Tuesday in the Zangilan and Gubadli regions of Nagorno-Karabakh near the border with Iran, and in the Aghdere and Khojavend regions - known by Armenia as Martakert and Martuni - in the north and east of the conflict zone.
Azerbaijan said its positions on the border with Armenia had been fired on with mortar bombs and small arms and that the city of Fizuli, between Nagorno-Karabakh and Iran, and surrounding villages were being shelled.
Armenian defence ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan denied the reported shelling of Fizuli. Armenian defence ministry official Artsrun Hovhannisyan said fighting was continuing in the eastern part of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Kamran Aliyev, Azerbaijan's prosecutor general, told Reuters in an interview that advancing Azeri troops had found an empty city in Fizuli, a large town in Soviet times.
"Our military were not even able to put a flag on anything there, because there were no buildings," he said in the capital, Baku, adding he would consider opening a criminal investigation into what he said had been the destruction of historical buildings.
The ethnic Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh defence ministry says 1,177 of its troops have been killed since Sept. 27. Azerbaijan does not disclose its military casualties, while Russia has estimated 5,000 deaths on both sides.