Scores of Syrian evacuees blown up in their buses by suicide bomb van driver
At least 100 people were killed yesterday when a suicide bomber struck a convoy of buses carrying civilians out of two Syrian towns where they had been besieged for more than two years.
The Syrian Civil Defence in Aleppo province, also known as the White Helmets, says its volunteers were able to remove at least 100 bodies from the scene of the blast.
Residents of Fuaa and Kafrya had been surrounded by rebel forces since March 2015 and were finally being evacuated to regime-controlled areas under a deal reached between the Syrian government and opposition.
But as they were leaving rebel-held territory a van supposedly carrying medical supplies pulled level with their buses and exploded.
Footage from the scene showed bodies piled on the side of the road next to the burnt-out vehicles. Their suitcases and belongings could still be seen inside the buses that were meant to carry them to safety.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the attack. Syrian state television blamed the opposition, pointing out that the civilians of Fuaa and Kafrya had remained loyal to the regime during the siege and that rebel groups regularly use suicide bombers.
Opposition activists countered that the regime itself might have carried out the attack on its own civilians to deflect attention from the chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun last week. They said rebel fighters had also been killed in the attack.
The bombing took place at Rashideen, a rebel area near its former bastion Aleppo, a city taken by the regime last December. The massive blast destroyed at least four buses and several nearby cars.
The attack threatened to unravel the delicate deal struck between the warring sides to evacuate 30,000 people from four towns that have been under siege for years.
Under the terms of the deal, people from the regime-controlled towns of Fuaa and Kafrya would be evacuated at the same time as residents in the rebel-held towns of Madaya and Zabadani.
Residents from Madaya, which has been racked by starvation during the siege, said they feared regime forces might attack them in retribution. "We're worried about the reaction of the regime army," Dr Mohammad Darwish told reporters from a bus where he was waiting in a regime-controlled area. "We're asking all humanitarian organisations to protect us."
The evacuations had stalled recently with thousands of civilians left to sleep on buses parked in an Aleppo depot as they waited anxiously for news.