Tuesday 23 May 2017

At least '68 children among dead' in Syria bomb attack as death toll rises to 126

* Pope Francis condemned the bomb blast as an "ignoble" attack

* Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan condemns attack as 'heinous'

* Pro-Damascus media says blast caused by suicide attacker

* Syrians stranded by stalled evacuation deal

* Buses waiting to cross from rebel-held territory into city

Scattered shoes lie on the ground near damaged buses after an explosion yesterday at insurgent-held al-Rashideen, Aleppo province, Syria April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
Scattered shoes lie on the ground near damaged buses after an explosion yesterday at insurgent-held al-Rashideen, Aleppo province, Syria April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
This frame grab from video provided by the Thiqa News Agency, shows rebel gunmen at the site of a blast that damaged several buses and vans at the Rashideen area, a rebel-controlled district outside Aleppo city, Syria (Thiqa News via AP)

John Davison & Philip Puella

At least 68 children died in a blast that hit buses carry evacuees from besieged towns in Syria, according to a monitoring group.

The death toll from the bomb attack on a crowded bus convoy outside Aleppo has reached at least 126 - including the dozens of children - in the deadliest such incident in Syria in almost a year, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.

Syrian rescue workers of the Civil Defence said that they had taken away at least 100 bodies from the site of Saturday's blast, which hit buses carrying Shia residents as they waited to cross from rebel into government territory in an evacuation deal between the warring sides.

The British-based Observatory said the number was expected to rise.

This image released by the Thiqa News Agency, shows buses at the evacuation point where an explosion hit at the Rashideen area, a rebel-controlled district outside Aleppo city, Syria (Thiqa News via AP)
This image released by the Thiqa News Agency, shows buses at the evacuation point where an explosion hit at the Rashideen area, a rebel-controlled district outside Aleppo city, Syria (Thiqa News via AP)
Damaged buses are seen after an explosion yesterday at insurgent-held al-Rashideen, Aleppo province, Syria April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

The United Nations is not overseeing the transfer deal, which involves residents of al-Foua and Kfarya, as well as the opposition-held towns of Madaya and Zabadani. All four have been under siege for years, their fate linked through a series of reciprocal agreements that the UN says have hindered aid deliveries.

Those killed in the blast were mostly residents of the villages of al-Foua and Kefraya in Idlib province, but included rebel fighters guarding the convoy, the SOHR said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which pro-Damascus media said was carried out by a suicide car bomber.

Syria's main armed opposition condemned the bombing, with groups fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army describing it as a “treacherous terrorist attack”.

Pope Francis condemned the bomb blast as an "ignoble" attack, asking God to bring healing and healing and comfort to civilian population in what he called the "beloved and martyred Syria".

Speaking on the most important day in the Christian liturgical calendar, he called for peace in South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ukraine.

Still image shows a cloud of black smoke rising from vehicles in the distance in what is said to be Aleppo's outskirts, Syria April 15, 2017. Social Media Website via Reuters TV
Still image shows a cloud of black smoke rising from vehicles in the distance in what is said to be Aleppo's outskirts, Syria April 15, 2017. Social Media Website via Reuters TV

A surprise downpour hit Rome as the Mass was held but it passed quickly, allowing Francis to ride around in an open popemobile so people at the back of the crowd could see him.

Repeatedly during Holy Week services, Francis has drawn attention to the plight of war victims, refugees and migrants.

On Good Friday, he spoke of the "shame" of humanity becoming inured to daily scenes of bombed cities and drowning migrants.

The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has condemned the bomb attack.

This frame grab from video provided by the Thiqa News Agency, shows a gunman passes by the buses that were damaged in a blast at the Rashideen area, a rebel-controlled district outside Aleppo city, Syria (Thiqa News via AP)
This frame grab from video provided by the Thiqa News Agency, shows a gunman passes by the buses that were damaged in a blast at the Rashideen area, a rebel-controlled district outside Aleppo city, Syria (Thiqa News via AP)

“The bomb attack on evacuees in Rashidin in Syria is a heinous crime," he said.

“It seems like an attack designed to provoke and to undo even limited local progress.

“It is an attack on people at their most vulnerable. I condemn it and call for those responsible to be brought to justice.”

Reuters

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