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Dozens killed in Syria evacuation bus explosion, evacuees stranded

The explosion may have been caused by a suicide bomber [Twitter]

Date of publication: 15 April, 2017

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An explosion has hit Syria bus convoy waiting to evacuate militants and residents from two Shia villages, killing and injuring dozens in the Rashidin area west of Aleppo.
At least 43 people were killed in an explosion that targeted buses evacuating residents of two Shia villages in Syria, local sources said, some of whom rebel fighters and medical crews.

The blast was the result of a suicide car bomb attack on buses carrying Syrians evacuated from two besieged government-held towns, opposition-aligned activists said in an updated toll.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said most of the dead were evacuees, but they also included several rebels who had been guarding the buses at a transit point in Rashidin, west of Aleppo.

Pro-Damascus media outlets had earlier reported that a suicide attacker had detonated a car bomb and killed at least 22 people. Images posted by the outlets showed bodies lying next to charred buses with their windows blown out, and flaming vehicles belching out thick black smoke.

The explosion on Saturday hit at an evacuation point south of Aleppo city where dozens of buses have been parked for over 30 hours as a much criticised population transfer deal stalled.

A senior rebel official said 20 rebels who guarded the buses were killed as well as dozens of passengers. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media.

The government and rebels disagreed over the number of gunmen to be evacuated, leaving the buses stuck.

The evacuees were left stranded as a result. They issued a statement circulated on social media condemning the bus attack and appealing for help.

"We are the civilians of Madaya..we condemn the bombing that targeted the Al-Rashidin area where people from Foua are gathering . We appeal to the United Nations, the International Red Cross and the international organizations concerned to provide the necessary protection to reach our destination in Idlib after the explosion in the Al-Rashidin area," the statement read.

Evacuation halted

Thousands of Syrians evacuated from their besieged towns under a widely criticised rebel-regime deal have spent the night on buses at an exchange point as a much criticised population transfer deal stalls, activists and residents said Saturday.

Syrian state TV blamed the rebels for obstructing the deal, causing thousands of evacuees to be stuck in bus depots overnight. Syrian Red Crescent teams distributed meals for the restless evacuees, who had left their homes over 30 hours earlier.

Dozens of buses carrying thousands children, women and men from pro-government areas Foua and Kfraya, and from opposition towns Madaya and Zabadani were parked at separate parts of the edge of Aleppo city, separated by walls, Syrian TV showed.

“The people are restless and the situation is disastrous,” said Ahmed Afandar, a resident evacuated from his hometown near Madaya. “All these thousands of people are stuck in less than half a kilometer (500 yards).” He said the area was walled off from all sides and there were no restrooms.

“We are not moving forward or backward,” he said. The evacuees from Madaya were expected to head to rebel-held Idlib, west of Aleppo. Afandar said people were not allowed to leave the buses for a while before they were let out. Food was distributed after several hours and by early afternoon the evacuees from rebel-held areas were “pressured” to sit back on their buses, Afandar said.

Salloum Salloum, a lawmaker speaking on the pro-government al-Ikhbariya TV channel, said efforts are underway to resolve the problem, accusing the rebels of adding new conditions to the deal.

Rami Abdurrahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, says the Syrian government and rebels who negotiated the deal have disagreed over the terms for the evacuation of gunmen from the towns.

An opposition representative, Ali Diab, told the pan-Arab Al-Arabiya TV that fewer armed men than agreed to were evacuated from the pro-government areas, violating the terms of the agreement.

A resident of Zabadani — another rebel-held town to be evacuated — Amer Burhan says no evacuation has taken place from there.

Agencies contributed to this report

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