Tuesday, February 20, 2018
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Aleppo blast: Syrian evacuation convoy targeted

As many as 39 killed after huge explosion targets bus convoy in Aleppo moving residents of two besieged Shia villages.

Fouaa and Kefraya

A large blast has killed dozens of people in an attack near buses carrying Syrians evacuated from two besieged government-held towns.

The blast on Saturday in Rashidin, west of Aleppo, targeted residents who were evacuated from the rebel-besieged towns of Fouaa and Kefraya in Idlib province under a deal reached between the Syrian government and rebels.

A report on Syrian state TV said at least 39 people were killed in the explosion. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) put the death toll at 24. 

While there was no confirmation as to what caused the blast, SOHR and state media said a "suicide bomber" allegedly used a van meant for carrying aid supplies to enter the area.

Pictures posted on state media showed what appeared to be the aftermath of the explosion, with burned bodies and fires belching out thick-black smoke.

Buses were blackened by the blast with their windows blown out.

The attack took place as thousands of evacuees from the besieged government-held towns of Fouaa and Kefraya waited to continue their journey to regime-controlled Aleppo, the coastal province of Latakia, or the capital Damascus.

More than 5,000 people who had lived under the crippling siege for more than two years left the two towns, along with 2,200 evacuated from rebel-held Madaya and Zabadani, on Friday.

READ MORE: Thousands stuck around Aleppo as evacuation deal stalls

They were headed for regime or rebel-held areas via the government-held second city of Aleppo.

Thousands of evacuees from Fouaa and Kefraya were stuck on the road in Rashidin when the blast struck.

The evacuation, brokered by government 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 only 5,000 left, including 1,300 fighters, the UK-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 Ramousa, south of Aleppo.

Mohamed Darwish, a doctor from Madaya, said that there was a growing fear among civilians aboard buses in Ramousa. 

"There's a lot of fear on our bus, especially because the regime and militia fighters are all around us," he said.

"We hope the UN, Turkey, Qatar, Iran; all of those who supported this deal will look after the civilians and ensure that they all arrive safely."

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 government has retaken several key rebel strongholds including eastern Aleppo since Russia's military intervention in September 2015.


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