Wednesday 24 January 2018

At least 112 people - including children - killed as Syrian evacuees hit in 'heinous' 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

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)
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)
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

THE death toll from a bomb blast on a crowded Syrian bus convoy outside Aleppo reached at least 112 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said on Sunday.

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

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

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

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)

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

The convoy was carrying at least 5,000 people including civilians and several hundred pro-government fighters, who were granted safe passage out of the two Shi'ite villages which are besieged by rebels.

Under the evacuation deal, more than 2,000 people including rebel fighters were granted safe passage out of Madaya, a town near Damascus besieged by government forces and their allies.

That convoy was waiting at a bus garage in a government-held area on Aleppo's outskirts, a few miles from where the attack took place. Madaya evacuees said they heard the blast

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

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

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)

“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.”

The explosion Saturday hit an evacuation point south of Aleppo city, where dozens of buses have been parked for more than 30 hours as a much-criticised population transfer deal stalled.

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

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

The government and rebels disagreed over the number of gunmen to be evacuated, leaving the buses stuck.

The blast happened after thousands of Syrians being evacuated from their besieged towns had spent the night on buses at an exchange point.

Ahmed Afandar, a resident evacuated from his home town near Madaya, said dozens of buses carrying women, children and men were not being allowed to proceed toward rebel-held Idlib as planned.

"The people are restless and the situation is disastrous," said Mr Afandar. "All these thousands of people are stuck in less than half a kilometre (500 yards)."

He said the area was walled off from all sides and there were no toilets.

Rami Abdurrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the Syrian government and rebels who negotiated the deal have differed over the evacuation of gunmen from the towns.

Dozens of buses carrying people from pro-government areas Foua and Kfraya, and from opposition towns Madaya and Zabadani, were parked at separate parts of the edge of Aleppo city, separated by walls, Syria TV showed.

An opposition representative, Ali Diab, told the pan-Arab Al-Arabiya TV that fewer armed men than agreed to were evacuated from the pro-government areas, violating the terms of the agreement.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi military statement said the Syrian air force has carried out a series of air strikes against Islamic State (IS) militants inside Syria, with one killing a leading member of the group in Raqqa, the IS de facto capital.

The statement said the strikes were against IS positions in Raqqa and Deir el-Zour, and near the Iraqi border. The statement described the targets as "the biggest positions for senior terrorists".

The statement said Abu Bakir al-Habeeb al-Hakim was killed in one of the strikes, describing him as a leading member of IS in Raqqa.

Additional reporting by Reuters

Reuters

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