BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) - An Azeri woman and a child were killed and another civilian was wounded by Armenian-backed rebels near the boundary with the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, Azerbaijan's defense ministry said on Wednesday.
Sporadic exchanges of fire in the fight for control over the region - inside Azerbaijan but controlled by ethnic Armenians - have stoked fears of a wider conflict breaking out in the South Caucasus, which is criss-crossed by oil and gas pipelines.
"Two residents of the village of Alkhanly, including a two-year-old girl, were killed and one was wounded on July 4 as a result of shelling by Armenian forces," Azeri defense ministry spokesman Vagif Dergakhly told a news conference.
Azeri forces had returned fire, he said, inflicting casualties on the other side.
Nagorno-Karabakh's self-declared defense ministry said Azeri forces had violated the ceasefire agreement, opened fire first and used anti-tank and other heavy weapons.
It said there were no losses among their servicemen, only among the villagers. It gave no further detail.
Fighting between ethnic Azeris and Armenians erupted in 1991 and a ceasefire was agreed in 1994. But Azerbaijan and Armenia regularly accuse each other of carrying out attacks around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Azeri-Armenian border.
Skirmishes have intensified in the past three years, and at least 200 people were killed in a violent flare-up last April.
Both sides have significantly increased their use of heavy artillery and anti-tank weapons since May when self-guided rockets and missiles were reported to have been fired near densely populated areas along the contact line.
(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova and Hasmik Mkrtchyan; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Dmitry Solovyov and Louise Ireland)