Azerbaijan denies Iran’s claim it is hosting Israeli military troops

BAKU (AFP): Azerbaijan on Monday denied allegations from Tehran that Israel’s military was in the Caucasus country during drills run by Iran’s army on their shared border.

The Iranian claims about sworn enemy Israel come after its state television last week showed tanks, howitzers and helicopters firing at targets in the northwest of the country.

Israel is a major arms supplier to Azerbaijan, which last autumn won a six-week war with neighbor Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Leyla Abdullayeva said Monday that Iran’s claims were groundless.

“We reject the allegati-ons of any third party’s pre-sence near the Azerbaijani-Iranian border, such allegations are totally baseless,” she said.

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev last week criticized the Iranian war games in an interview with Turkish news agency Anadolu, asking “why now, and why on our border?”

Israel came under diplomatic fire from Armenia d-uring last year’s conflict b-etween the Caucasus neighbors. The fighting ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire that saw Yerevan cede swaths of contested territories, including the Karabakh section of Azerbaijan’s 700-kilometer border with Iran.

Azerbaijan and Iran have long been at loggerheads over Tehran’s backing of Armenia in the decades-long Karabakh conflict. Relations recently soured further after Azerbaijan’s army held joint drills with Turkey and Pakistan, 500 kilometers from the country’s border with Iran.

Azerbaijan’s decision to impose customs duty on Iranian truck drivers transiting to Armenia also fueled tensions.

Tehran has long been wary of separatist sentiments among ethnic Azerbaijanis, who make up around 10 million of Iran’s 83 million people.

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