Thousands expected to be evacuated in Syria after blast

Frederick Owens
April 17, 2017

More than 50 buses and 20 ambulances carrying 5,000 Foua and Kfarya residents entered the government-held city of Aleppo, Syrian state TV said, with some of them later reaching a shelter in the village of Jibreen to the south.

The evacuation process resumed after the bombing, the Observatory said, with the residents of Fuaa and Kafraya eventually arriving in Aleppo, Syria's second city which the government gained full control of previous year.

The blast ripped through a bus depot in the al-Rashideen area where thousands of government loyalists evacuated the day before waited restlessly for hours, as opposition fighters guarded the area while negotiators bickered over the completion of the transfer deal.

Government evacuees had been waiting under rebel guard when the bomb went off. Personal belongings could be seen dangling out of the windows.

Rescuers say at least 100 people were killed from opposition and government supporters.

Another strike hit a gathering of suicide attackers who were planning to enter Iraq, according to the statement. It also reflected the chaos surrounding negotiations between the warring parties.

The evacuations were taking place under a deal between Syria's regime and rebels that is also seeing residents and rebels transported out of Madaya and Zabadani, towns near Damascus that are surrounded by pro-government forces.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack.

A handout photo made available by Syrian Arab News Agency.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which pro-Damascus media said was carried out by a suicide vehicle bomber.

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SANA reported that buses carrying people from Foua and Kefraya had already begun arriving in Aleppo's Jebrin area, where the government has set up a temporary housing centre for them.

Syrian state TV blamed "terrorist groups", a term the government applies to all armed opposition organizations. The group said the attack only serves to deflect the attention from government "crimes" and said it was ready to cooperate with an worldwide probe to determine who did it.

The influential rebel Ahrar al-Sham force denied involvement, with a senior official tweeting: "Our role was to secure civilians not kill them".

The Syrian Civil Defense in Aleppo province, also known as the White Helmets, says its volunteers were able to remove at least 100 bodies from the scene of the blast. The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 43, adding that it would likely rise because of the extensive damage.

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 the Government-besieged area near Damascus.

According to Abdul Hakim Baghdadi, an interlocutor who helped the government negotiate the evacuations, 140 were killed in the attack. He said it is not clear what hinders the completion of the evacuation.

Hours after the explosion, the transfer resumed - as dozens of buses, starting with the wounded, left to their respective destinations. When the two convoys reached Aleppo, the auto bomb hit the Shiite buses.

The explosion Saturday was caused by a auto bomb, according to Syrian TV and the opposition Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, causing massive destruction.

"They were residents of two besieged Shia minority villages, who'd been besieged by rebels for years".

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