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Witness Recounts Deadly Attack On Aid Convoy In Syria

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And we've heard a lot about this week's deadly attack on an aid convoy in Syria which came at the end of a troubled truce. Now let's hear from a witness who says he saw the attack unfold. NPR's Alison Meuse reached him from her base in Beirut.

ALISON MEUSE, BYLINE: Ammar Salamo heads a volunteer rescue group working in the rebel-held parts of Aleppo province. He says he was at his office in the town of Orem al-Kubra on Monday when it was due to receive humanitarian aid. When the convoy of 31 trucks arrived, he asked Omar Barakat, the local director of the Red Crescent aid group, if he needed help unloading.

AMMAR SALAMO: I asked Omar - Omar is my friend, and he is the friend of all the community there.

MEUSE: Barakat told Salamo he'd hired men to help, and Salamo said goodbye.

SALAMO: I went to my office. It was like paradise for us because there is no aircraft in the sky, no shelling and - truce-like.

MEUSE: He'd just sat to have tea on his office balcony.

SALAMO: I hear the helicopter is coming toward us.

MEUSE: Salamo says he saw a helicopter drop two bombs then return for another round. He got into his car and drove to the scene. On his way, he says, he recognized the sound of a Sukhoi warplane, the type flown by President Bashar al-Assad's Russian allies.

SALAMO: I heard that there is a Sukhoi aircraft in the sky, so I was so slow. I heard another attack, an attack toward the warehouse.

MEUSE: When he arrived, he saw some of the trucks on fire and his friend Omar Barakat in distress.

SALAMO: At the front of the warehouse, we saw him in his car waving his hand and calling for help. It was a moment of madness, a moment of hell.

MEUSE: But Salamo was forced to retreat as the raids continued for eight hours. The U.N., which had secured permission for the convoy from the warring sides, says it learned of the attack as it unfolded but could do nothing. Barakat later died. Four truck drivers and 10 workmen were also killed. Salamo and his teams worked through the night to douse the flames. The Syrian regime and Russia have denied responsibility. The U.S.-led coalition said it had no planes in the area and believes Russia did.

Even by the standards of Syria's war, the attack on an official humanitarian convoy was shocking. A Red Crescent spokesman on the government-held side of Aleppo wrote a grief-stricken Facebook post mourning his friend and blaming his death on Assad's Russian allies.

Alison Meuse, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.