Bomb 'kills dozens' of evacuees in Syria

Frederick Owens
April 21, 2017

It warned the death toll may rise further as "hundreds" more were wounded in the blast.

An opposition activist group and a TV station run by Lebanon's Hezbollah say more than 3,000 people are expected to be evacuated from four villages as part of a population transfer that was briefly stalled by a deadly blast that killed scores.

Under a swap deal brokered by Iran and Qatar, the residents from al-Foua and Kfraya were being moved into Aleppo in exchange for the relocation of hundreds of Sunni insurgents and their families from government-besieged areas near Damascus.

Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the evacuation had been delayed because permission was not given by both sides.

The auto bombing in Rashid on Saturday hit government supporters who had been stranded on buses on the edge of Aleppo city for more than 30 hours.

Syrian state media put the death toll at 39, including civilians and rebel fighters.

The blast hit buses in the Rashidin area on Aleppo's outskirts, which had been waiting to cross from rebel-held territory into the government-controlled city itself, carrying people evacuated from two Shiite villages on Friday.

Stephen O'Brien, United Nations relief co-ordinator, said he was "horrified" by the deadly bombing, and that while the UN was not involved in the transfer it was ready to "scale up our support to evacuees".

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Rebels say they amount to forced relocations after years of bombardment and crippling sieges.

In an Easter Sunday message, Pope Francis said the bus bombing was a "vile attack on fleeing refugees".

The agreement is the latest in a string of evacuation deals which the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said are the best way to end the violence after more than six years of civil war.

Madaya and Zabadani, once summer resorts to Damascus, have been shattered under the cruelty of a government siege. Once they are out, both towns will be completely emptied of their populations, and the rebels will take over, after besieging the towns for years.

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"The situation is disastrous", said Ahmed Afandar, a resident evacuated from the opposition area near Madaya. They were at the site to ensure the convoy's passage, Ahrar al-Sham said. He said the area was walled off from all sides and there were no restrooms.

The evacuees from Madaya headed to rebel-held Idlib, west of Aleppo.

Syrian state TV blamed the rebels for obstructing the deal.

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