Thousands of evacuated Syrians stuck as transfer stalls

Syrian TV said at least 39 people were killed Saturday in an explosion that hit near buses carrying people evacuated from a besieged area of government loyalists.

Monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 43, adding that it would likely rise because of the extensive damage.

The agreement had stalled, leaving thousands of people from both government-besieged and rebel-besieged areas stranded at two transit points on the city's outskirts, before the explosion occurred.

State TV al-Ikhbariya said the attack was the result of a auto bomb carrying food aid to be delivered to the evacuees in the rebel-held area - ostensibly crisps for the children - and accused rebel groups of carrying it out. In footage aired on Syrian TV, bodies were strewn outside buses, including fighters. A Facebook page belonging to the pro-government Foua and Kfraya villages said all those in three buses were killed or are still missing while a rebel official said at least 30 opposition fighters who were guarding the evacuees were killed in the blast.

Dozens of buses entered the areas Wednesday but by late Thursday people had not boarded them, according to opposition activists in the rebel-held towns. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

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 opposition-held Madaya and Zabadani, on Friday. Syrian Red Crescent teams distributed meals for the restless evacuees, who had left their homes over 30 hours earlier.


An opposition representative, Ali Diab, accused the government side of violating the terms of the agreement, by evacuating fewer armed men than agreed to from the pro-government areas. The evacuees from Madaya were expected to head to rebel-held Idlib, west of Aleppo.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov insisted Friday that inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons should visit both the Syrian air base, which the US said had served as a platform for the attack, and the area of the attack as soon as possible.

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.

Syrian state TV blamed the rebels for obstructing the deal. Al-Ikhbariya TV said 48 wounded were transported in exchange for allowing five buses of residents from opposition areas to head toward a rebel-controlled province.

Ahrar al-Sham group is the main negotiator with the government and its allies of the widely criticized evacuation deal that transferred thousands of government and opposition supporters from four besieged areas.

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

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