Syrian deal to evacuate tens of thousands of people begins

Trevor Jackson
April 16, 2017

A rebel official says at least 30 of his opposition fighters who were guarding the evacuees were killed in the blast.

Syrian state TV blamed the rebels for obstructing the deal, causing thousands of evacuees to be stuck in bus depots overnight.

In a video posted on Facebook from one of the buses departing Madaya, a man identified as Hossam said: "We were forced to leave".

The blast hit al-Rashideen district on the western outskirts of Aleppo, located some 355 kilometers north of the capital, Damascus, as buses were stopping at a checkpoint on Saturday afternoon.

30k Number of people expected to be evacuated under the deal, which began on Wednesday.

"It's remarkably complex; civilians, fighters and their families, injured and sick are involved in these evacuations - and the numbers have to be tallied up between the regime and the opposition".

Assad is facing renewed global pressure after accusations his government carried out a suspected April 4 chemical weapons attack on a northern rebel-held town.

The deal to evacuate the towns is the latest in a string of such agreements through Syria's six-year civil war.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the blast hit the convoy of mostly Shi'ite residents.

Syrian state TV said the transfer resumed after the explosion, and dozens of wounded were taken to government areas.

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Critics say the deals permanently change the ethnic and religious map, but President Bashar al-Assad insisted on Wednesday that the evacuations were only temporary, and people would return once the "terrorists" had been defeated.

A vehicle bomb in northern Syria killed dozens Saturday when it ripped through buses evacuating residents from a besieged government town. A war monitor put the death toll at 24 in the area controlled by opposition fighters.

According to a Sputnik source in Aleppo, the blast supposedly was caused by a suicide attacker who detonated an explosive device.

"In northern Syria, residents of Shia minority villages, long besieged by rebels, are leaving", NPR's Alison Meuse reports from Beirut.

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.

Pictures shared in the aftermath of the explosion show bodies lying on the ground and fires belching out thick black plumes of smoke.

Mr Afandar said people had not been "pressured" to remain on buses amid reported disagreements between regime and rebel negotiators over the evacuation of fighters.

According to Abdul Hakim Baghdadi, an interlocutor who helped the government negotiate the evacuations, said 140 were killed in the attack.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 24 were killed.

Other reports by TheDailyFarc

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