ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In Syria, government forces are continuing an assault on the rebel-held side of Aleppo city. The forces of President Bashar al-Assad say they are fighting extremists, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 200 civilians have also been killed in the week-long offensive. NPR's Alison Meuse reports that among them were bakery workers who were in charge of feeding the city.
ALISON MEUSE, BYLINE: The opposition-held part of Aleppo has been under what locals call an unprecedented aerial bombardment from the Syrian air force and its Russian allies that's been compounded by weeks of siege.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Arabic).
MEUSE: In a video filmed by opposition activists, rescue workers respond to one of the bombardments and search for victims.
This morning before dawn, a bakery was hit by artillery fire. By Skype, I reached an opposition official named Yaser Kour. He's responsible for keeping 23 bakeries running amid the violence and siege.
YASER KOUR: (Through interpreter) My work is to distribute flour, fuel and the bread to the various districts of Aleppo. I'm always working on our rationing system so it can stretch the longest possible.
MEUSE: Kour was checking in on the bakeries late Tuesday night. He'd gone home to get some sleep when he woke up to a voicemail message from one of the bakers on his distribution route. The man's voice was almost unintelligible.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking foreign language).
MEUSE: His voice trembles. He says, Mr. Yaser, we've been hit. Kour jumped out of bed and got into his car.
KOUR: (Through interpreter) I realized this person is in a really dangerous and critical situation.
MEUSE: He says he sped back to the bakery, but it was too late. Blood and bread were scattered on the ground, and the baker who'd called him was among the dead.
KOUR: (Through interpreter) It was a blow. Someone asked for help, and I couldn't do anything.
MEUSE: He remembered seeing the man just hours before.
KOUR: (Through interpreter) I was checking on the quality and the weight of the bread and asking when he'd finish up, you know, chatting and kidding with each other.
MEUSE: Kour says he'll still go ahead with his bread route again tonight despite the violence. This attack was one of dozens that the opposition and aid groups say have been launched against residential areas on the rebel-held side which the U.N. estimates is home to more than 200,000 people.
Doctors Without Borders says two of the hospitals it supports in eastern Aleppo were severely damaged in overnight bombings. The aid group says at least two patients were killed and two medical staff injured. Meanwhile, rebel factions are shelling the government-held side with rocket fire, though the death toll there is much less than on the rebel side.
And the scale of the government offensive has prompted U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to threaten to hold plans for military cooperation with Russia, which is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's key ally. Even Pope Francis appealed for an end to the violence without assigning blame. He said those responsible for the bombardment will have to answer to God. Alison Meuse, NPR News, Beirut.
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