DAVID GREENE, HOST:
International envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met with Syrian leaders today hoping to solve that country's bloody conflict, but the bloodshed goes on. There are reports of explosions in Damascus today, government forces are battling rebel fighters, and civilians continue to perish in large numbers. The relentless violence, including an airstrike yesterday on a bakery, is draining hope for any diplomatic solution. NPR's Peter Kenyon filed this report from Istanbul.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Lakhdar Brahimi is the latest U.N. and Arab League envoy to try to stanch the bloodshed in Syria and this visit to meet Syrian president Bashar al-Assad reflects the long odds against him. Brahimi was forced to enter by car from Lebanon because of fighting around Damascus airport. As he made his way to the Syrian capital, news emerged of another gruesome attack, this time in the central town of Halfaya, in the countryside north of Hama.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)
KENYON: As they have throughout this uprising-turned-armed-insurrection, activists and ordinary Syrians raced to the scene to document the carnage and share it via the Internet.
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KENYON: Videos showed black smoke billowing from a whitewashed building, with a large crater in front of the door. Amid the charred trucks and scooters, bodies are strewn across the blood-stained street. Rescuers frantically try to sort the wounded from the dead, while others pick up dismembered body parts.
Many of the victims appear to be civilians, but the videos also feature a number of young men in camouflage with weapons slung over their shoulders.
Activist Hasan Rajab in Halfaya told NPR that the town had been taken by the rebel Free Syrian Army several days ago. He said loyalist forces had been shelling the town since then, and flour supplies were blocked. Finally yesterday, people heard that flour had arrived from Turkey, and a huge line formed outside the bakery. Rajab said he saw the Syrian military plane overhead before it fired on the crowd.
Scores of people were reported killed in the attack. Activist Mousab Alhamadee, speaking via Skype from the nearby city of Hama, says rebel fighters are on a campaign to seize towns in the Hama countryside. He's convinced that the airstrike was retaliation by the army.
MOUSAB ALHAMADEE: But the regime - it seems to us the regime liked to send a message to towns and cities in Hama countryside, that once they are liberated there will be a very severe punishment.
KENYON: Alhamadee said families were already leaving the area because of the fighting, but now he expects a much larger flight.
ALHAMADEE: But in this case after this horrific massacre in Halfaya, we expect that the number of people who are going to refugee camps in Turkey will go more - will go higher and higher.
KENYON: As aid workers struggle to care for burgeoning numbers of displaced Syrians, Lakhdar Brahimi presses ahead with efforts to get both sides to agree on some kind of transition to a new government. But Hama activist Mousab Alhamadee says Syrians will not be watching Brahimi's visit with any great hope.
ALHAMADEE: Of course not. Syrians are just watching the victories of the Free Syrian Army. We wait no more for Mr. Brahimi. We even don't watch political news. And the voice of bullets is the only voice that will be heard at the end of the day.
KENYON: The voice of bullets and the roar of heavy weapons are certainly dominating Syria at the moment. But many Syrians have said they're not sure the rebels can win this fight, and they worry about what the opposition might turn into if it did win. That's why Brahimi's efforts still engender hope, however faint it may be.
Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.