Syrian rescue workers who operate in opposition areas say at least 100 people were killed in a blast that ripped through a bus depot where evacuees waited to be transferred to government areas.
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 huge explosion earlier Saturday came as a much criticized population transfer deal stalled as the government and rebels bickered over who should be evacuated.
Syrian state media said at least 39 were killed. A rebel official says at least 30 of his opposition fighters who were guarding the evacuees were killed in the blast.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack in Rashidin, west of Aleppo, targeted residents evacuated from the northern towns of Fuaa and Kafraya under a deal reached between the regime and rebels.
An AFP reporter in Rashidin saw several bodies, body parts and blood scattered on the ground.
“The suicide bomber was driving a van supposedly carrying aid supplies and detonated near the buses,” the Observatory said.
It warned that the death toll was likely to rise given the “several dozen wounded” at the blast site.
Bus of evacuees from gov-held Fouaa & Kefraya reportedly hit by car bomb – no casualty count yet. Attack cld have far-reaching consequences. pic.twitter.com/JWCifqP3g4
— Louisa Loveluck (@leloveluck) April 15, 2017
State television said the car bombing had been carried out by “terrorist groups,” a term the regime applies to all armed opposition groups.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said that rebels at the transit point were among the dead.
The attack took place as thousands of evacuees from the besieged government-held towns of Fuaa and Kafraya waited to continue their journey to regime-controlled Aleppo, the coastal province of Latakia, or Damascus.
More than 5,000 people who had lived under crippling siege for more than two years left the two towns, along with 2,200 evacuated from rebel-held Madaya and Zabadani, on Friday.
They were headed for regime or rebel-held areas via government-held second city Aleppo.
Thousands of evacuees from Fuaa and Kafraya were stuck on the road in rebel-held Rashidin, west of Aleppo, when the bomb went off.
— Global News (@GlobalNewsIL) April 15, 2017
The evacuation, brokered by regime ally Iran and rebel backer Qatar, is set to see more than 30,000 people evacuated in two stages.
The deal had stipulated that in the first stage 8,000 people, including 2,000 loyalist fighters, leave the two towns but in the event just 5,000, including 1,300 fighters left, the Britain-based Observatory said.
Evacuees were left stranded as differences emerged over the number of loyalist fighters leaving, a rebel source said, refusing to elaborate as “negotiations are under way.”
Thousands of evacuees from Madaya and Zabadani were also stuck in government-controlled Ramusa, south of Aleppo.
The deal to evacuate the towns was the latest in a string of such agreements, touted by the government as the best way to end the fighting. Rebels say they have been forced out by siege and bombardment.
The regime has retaken several key rebel strongholds including eastern Aleppo since a Russian military intervention in September 2015.