At least 24 killed in Syrian evacuation bus convoy explosion

- 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.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the death toll was at least 24.Footage on state TV showed bodies lying next to charred buses with their windows blown out, and vehicles in flames.The blast hit buses in the Rashidin area on Aleppo's outskirts.

The villagers were being relocated as part of a deal to aid those living in areas under siege.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the blast targeted buses carrying residents evacuated from the northern towns of Fuaa and Kafraya under a deal reached between the regime and rebels.

According to AFP, about 5,000 of the government evacuees and 2,200 rebel evacuees were stranded.

The huge auto bomb on Saturday came as a much criticised population transfer deal stalled as the government and rebels bickered over who should be evacuated.

A senior rebel official said 20 rebels who guarded the buses were killed as well as dozens of passengers.

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.

It is still unclear who carried out the bombing attack, but tensions had been heightened after an evacuation deal had been halted, leaving those in transit in danger.

He said the area was walled off from all sides and there were no toilets. "All these thousands of people are stuck in less than half a kilometer (500 yards)".

At least 70 people were reportedly killed, with many women and children among them.

A Madaya resident, speaking from the bus garage inside Aleppo, said people had been waiting there since late on Friday, and were not being allowed to leave.

The coordinated evacuations delivered war-weary fighters and residents from two years of siege and hunger, but moved Syria closer to a division of its national population by loyalty and sect. Afandar said people were not allowed to leave the buses for a while before they were let out.

A pro-opposition activist said insurgents blamed the delay partly on the fact that a smaller number of pro-government fighters had left the Shi'ite villages than was agreed.Earlier on Saturday, at the transit point where the buses from al-Foua and Kefraya were waiting, one resident said he was not yet sure where he would live. Food was distributed after several hours and by early afternoon the evacuees from rebel-held areas were "pressured" to sit back on their buses, Afandar said.

A resident of Zabadani, another rebel-held town to be evacuated, reportedly said that in last few days no evacuation has taken place from there.

  • Leroy Wright