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story.lead_photo.caption Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (center) attends the funeral Thursday in Yerevan for Maj. Garush Hambardzumyan, who was killed during fighting against Azerbaijani forces on the South Caucasus nations’ shared border. The sides blame each other for continuing attacks in the worst outbreak of hostilities in years. More photos at arkansasonline.com/717conflict/. (AP/PAN/Government Press Office/Tigran Mehrabyan)

YEREVAN, Armenia -- Fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces flared up again Thursday on the South Caucasus nations' shared border, with each side blaming the other for the attacks that extended the worst outbreak of hostilities between the countries in years.

In a statement that reflected the potential for the conflict's escalation, Azerbaijan warned that it could strike Armenia's nuclear power plant if the Armenian forces attacked a strategic water reservoir in Azerbaijan.

"The Armenian side mustn't forget that the state-of-the-art missile systems our army has are capable of launching a precision strike on the Metsamor nuclear power plant, and that would be a huge tragedy for Armenia," Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman Vagif Dargyakhly said in a statement.

The Soviet-built nuclear power plant is close to Armenia's border with Turkey, a close ally of Azerbaijan.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCvndVloeao]

Armenian military spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan said Armenia had brought the Azerbaijani statement to the attention of its international partners and expects them to strongly condemn it. He noted that Armenian officials have never made threats to strike civilian facilities in Azerbaijan.

Armenia's Foreign Ministry denounced the Azerbaijani threat as "genocidal."

The two neighbors have been locked in conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan that has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994. International efforts to settle the conflict have stalled, and clashes have been frequent.

The latest outbreak of fighting in the northern section of the border began Sunday and so far has left at least 17 people dead. Azerbaijan said it lost 12 service members and one civilian, and Armenia said four of its troops were killed and 20 others were wounded.

Gallery: Armenia-Azerbaijan border tensions

[Gallery not loading above? Click here for more photos » arkansasonline.com/717conflict/]

Both sides also reported that dozens of enemy troops were killed, but the competing claims couldn't be independently verified.

The current outburst of fighting appears to be the most serious spike in hostilities since 2016 when scores were killed in four days of fighting.

After a lull in fighting on Wednesday, the conflict resumed with new vigor on Thursday. Armenia's Defense Ministry said a cross-border attack by Azerbaijani forces targeted Armenia's military positions early Thursday and were rebuffed.

Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan said the Armenian military allowed Azerbaijan to collect the bodies of its soldiers killed during the raid, adding that Azerbaijani troops already had evacuated more than 10 bodies.

Stepanyan also asserted that the Azerbaijani military shelled several villages in Tavush province with heavy artillery.

Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry dismissed the Armenian statement as a "disinformation."

It said the Armenian military attacked Azerbaijani forces on Thursday morning, shelling several settlements with large-caliber weapons.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev fired his foreign minister Thursday, accusing him of failing to duly defend the nation's interests during the conflict.

Information for this article was contributed by Daria Litvinova, Vladimir Isachenkov and Suzan Fraser of The Associated Press.

People carry an Azerbaijan's national flag during a funeral ceremony of Maj. Gen. Polad Hashimov who was killed in fighting Tuesday along with five other servicemen at a cemetery in Baku, Azerbaijan, Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Skirmishes on the volatile Armenia-Azerbaijan border escalated Tuesday, marking the most serious outbreak of hostilities between the neighbors since the fighting in 2016. (AP Photo/Aziz Karimov)
People carry an Azerbaijan's national flag during a funeral ceremony of Maj. Gen. Polad Hashimov who was killed in fighting Tuesday along with five other servicemen at a cemetery in Baku, Azerbaijan, Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Skirmishes on the volatile Armenia-Azerbaijan border escalated Tuesday, marking the most serious outbreak of hostilities between the neighbors since the fighting in 2016. (AP Photo/Aziz Karimov)
Relatives and friends mourn at the coffin with the body of Major Garush Hambardzumyan, who was killed during a fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia forces at the ceremony at Yerevan's Yerablur military pantheon, in Yerevan, Armenia, Thursday, July 16, 2020. Clashes resumed between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces on the South Caucasus nations' shared border Thursday morning, with both sides blaming each other for attacks that continue the worst outbreak of hostilities in years. (Karo Sahakyan/PAN Photo via AP)
Relatives and friends mourn at the coffin with the body of Major Garush Hambardzumyan, who was killed during a fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia forces at the ceremony at Yerevan's Yerablur military pantheon, in Yerevan, Armenia, Thursday, July 16, 2020. Clashes resumed between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces on the South Caucasus nations' shared border Thursday morning, with both sides blaming each other for attacks that continue the worst outbreak of hostilities in years. (Karo Sahakyan/PAN Photo via AP)
A damaged house is seen after shelling by Armenian forces in the Tovuz region of Azerbaijan, Tuesday, July 14, 2020. Skirmishes on the volatile Armenia-Azerbaijan border escalated Tuesday, marking the most serious outbreak of hostilities between the neighbors since the fighting in 2016. (AP Photo/Ramil Zeynalov)
A damaged house is seen after shelling by Armenian forces in the Tovuz region of Azerbaijan, Tuesday, July 14, 2020. Skirmishes on the volatile Armenia-Azerbaijan border escalated Tuesday, marking the most serious outbreak of hostilities between the neighbors since the fighting in 2016. (AP Photo/Ramil Zeynalov)
A local woman shows damage in her house after the shelling by the Azerbaijan side in the Aygepar village in Armenia's Tavush region, Armenia, Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Three days of fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces have killed at least 16 people in the worst outbreak of hostilities between the neighboring countries in years. (Karo Sahakyan/PAN Photo via AP)
A local woman shows damage in her house after the shelling by the Azerbaijan side in the Aygepar village in Armenia's Tavush region, Armenia, Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Three days of fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces have killed at least 16 people in the worst outbreak of hostilities between the neighboring countries in years. (Karo Sahakyan/PAN Photo via AP)
A local woman shows damage in her house after the shelling by Armenian forces in the Tovuz region of Azerbaijan, Tuesday, July 14, 2020. Skirmishes on the volatile Armenia-Azerbaijan border escalated Tuesday, marking the most serious outbreak of hostilities between the neighbors since the fighting in 2016. (AP Photo/Ramil Zeynalov)
A local woman shows damage in her house after the shelling by Armenian forces in the Tovuz region of Azerbaijan, Tuesday, July 14, 2020. Skirmishes on the volatile Armenia-Azerbaijan border escalated Tuesday, marking the most serious outbreak of hostilities between the neighbors since the fighting in 2016. (AP Photo/Ramil Zeynalov)
People carry Azerbaijn's national flags as they rally in support of Azerbeijan's Army in Baku, Azerbaijan, Tuesday, July 14, 2020. Skirmishes on the volatile Armenia-Azerbaijan border escalated Tuesday, marking the most serious outbreak of hostilities between the neighbors since the fighting in 2016. (AP Photo/Aziz Karimov)
People carry Azerbaijn's national flags as they rally in support of Azerbeijan's Army in Baku, Azerbaijan, Tuesday, July 14, 2020. Skirmishes on the volatile Armenia-Azerbaijan border escalated Tuesday, marking the most serious outbreak of hostilities between the neighbors since the fighting in 2016. (AP Photo/Aziz Karimov)
Armenian soldiers take their position on the front line in Tavush region, Armenia, Tuesday, July 14, 2020. Skirmishes on the volatile Armenia-Azerbaijan border escalated Tuesday, marking the most serious outbreak of hostilities between the neighbors since the fighting in 2016. (Armenian Defense Ministry Press Service/PanPhoto via AP)
Armenian soldiers take their position on the front line in Tavush region, Armenia, Tuesday, July 14, 2020. Skirmishes on the volatile Armenia-Azerbaijan border escalated Tuesday, marking the most serious outbreak of hostilities between the neighbors since the fighting in 2016. (Armenian Defense Ministry Press Service/PanPhoto via AP)
People carry an Azerbaijn's national flag as they rally in support of Azerbeijan's Army in Baku, Azerbaijan, Tuesday, July 14, 2020. Skirmishes on the volatile Armenia-Azerbaijan border escalated Tuesday, marking the most serious outbreak of hostilities between the neighbors since the fighting in 2016. (AP Photo/Aziz Karimov)
People carry an Azerbaijn's national flag as they rally in support of Azerbeijan's Army in Baku, Azerbaijan, Tuesday, July 14, 2020. Skirmishes on the volatile Armenia-Azerbaijan border escalated Tuesday, marking the most serious outbreak of hostilities between the neighbors since the fighting in 2016. (AP Photo/Aziz Karimov)
Elvin, son of Col. Ilgar Mirzayev, who was killed in fighting Tuesday along with five other servicemen holds an Azerbaijan's national flag standing with his mother and widow of Ilgar Mirzayev during the funeral ceremony in Baku, Azerbaijan, Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Skirmishing on the volatile Armenia-Azerbaijan border escalated Tuesday, marking the most serious outbreak of hostilities between the neighbors since the fighting in 2016. (AP Photo)
Elvin, son of Col. Ilgar Mirzayev, who was killed in fighting Tuesday along with five other servicemen holds an Azerbaijan's national flag standing with his mother and widow of Ilgar Mirzayev during the funeral ceremony in Baku, Azerbaijan, Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Skirmishing on the volatile Armenia-Azerbaijan border escalated Tuesday, marking the most serious outbreak of hostilities between the neighbors since the fighting in 2016. (AP Photo)
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