GANJA, Azerbaijan (Dispatches) -- A missile strike leveled a row of homes in Azerbaijan’s second city of Ganja Saturday, killing and badly injuring people in their sleep in a sharp escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The early hours attack saw a second missile strike another part of Ganja and a third reach the nearby strategic city of Mingecevir.
An AFP team in Ganja saw rows of houses turned to rubble by the strike, which shattered the walls and ripped the roofs off buildings in the surrounding streets.
People ran outside in shock and tears, stumbling through muddy alleys in their slippers, some wearing bathroom robes and pajamas.
One witness said he saw rescuers pull a small child, two women and four men from the debris in the minutes immediately after the strike.
"We were sleeping. The kids were watching TV,” Rubaba Zhafarova, 65, said in front of her destroyed house. "All the houses around here are destroyed. Many people are under the rubble. Some are dead, some are wounded.”
The attack came only six days after a missile struck another residential part of the city of more than 300,000 people, killing 10 civilians.
Hikmat Hajiyev, an assistant to Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, tweeted that according to "initial information, more than 20 houses were destroyed” on Saturday.
Baku said 13 civilians were killed and more than 50 wounded in Ganja, while Yerevan accused Azerbaijan of continued shelling.
Baku also said that an electricity line which goes from Azerbaijan to neighboring Georgia was damaged as a result of shelling in the town of Mingachevir.
Azeri President Ilham Aliyev accused Armenia of committing a war crime by shelling Ganja. "If the international community does not punish Armenia, we will do it,” he said.
Aliyev said the Azeri army has completely taken over two regions previously held by separatists, Fizuli and Jabrail. "We are dominating the battlefield,” he said, adding that Azeri armed forces never targeted civilian settlements.
Aliyev also questioned Armenia’s ability to keep replacing military hardware destroyed in battles, a thinly veiled jab at Yerevan’s ally Moscow.
Armenia denied the Azeri claim that it had been bringing arms illegally and accused Azerbaijan of acting to expand Turkey’s influence in the region and of using pro-Turkish mercenaries - charges both Ankara and Baku deny.
The Armenian defense ministry denied the Azeri claim on shelling cities in Azerbaijan and accused Baku of continuing to shell populated areas inside Nagorno-Karabakh, including Stepanakert.
Three civilians were wounded as a result of Azeri fire in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian foreign ministry said.
Armenia also said several Azeri drones flew over settlements in Armenia, attacked military installations and damaged the civilian infrastructure. It denied an Azeri claim to have downed an Armenian Su-25 warplane.
Baku said on Saturday that 60 Azeri civilians had been killed and 270 wounded since the fighting flared on Sept. 27. Azerbaijan has not disclosed military casualties.
Nagorno-Karabakh says 633 of its military personnel have been killed, and 34 civilians.
The fighting is the worst in the region since Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces went to war in the 1990s over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountain territory that is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but populated and governed by ethnic Armenians.
But Armenia, which backs Nagorno-Karabakh but does not recognized its independence, has admitted that Azerbaijani forces have made important gains
AFP on Friday was taken by the Azerbaijani military to one settlement re-captured in the southern section of the conflict zone near the Iranian border.
Officials said they last controlled the settlement of Jabrayil, which includes strategic heights overlooking a fertile valley, during the post-Soviet war.
The current escalation is the deadliest and longest since that six-year conflict.
The shelling of Stepanakert and the strikes on Ganja followed a joint call from Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday to "end the bloodshed as soon as possible.”