An explosion has killed at least 43 people awaiting evacuation from the government-held towns of Foua and Kfraya. The blast came as evacuation efforts stalled throughout the night.
A suspected car bomb tore through a crowd of people at a transit point for Syrians waiting to be transferred out of the two government-held towns of Foua and Kfraya. Recent estimates say at least 43 people were killed in the attack, while UN White Helmet rescue workers who work in the area told the Associated Press news agency that at least 100 people had been killed. Syria's state news agency SANA said that most of the victims were women and children.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which is based in the UK but has a number of sources on the ground in Syria, reported the explosion occurred at Rashidin, located west of Aleppo. Several buses were reportedly waiting to take thousands of people, mainly Shiite residents, away from the besieged areas as part of an evacuation deal. Around 50 people were meanwhile confirmed as having sustained varying injuries.
Pro-government media outlets and pro-opposition activists corroborated the event. A Syrian military media unit run by Hezbollah said that it was a suicide attacker who had detonated the car bomb.
Syrian state TV said an unknown number of people had been killed and wounded.
Syrian state media showed images of plumes of smoke, charred buses and dead bodies on the ground after the explosion. It is assumed that the casualties were mainly local Shiite residents hoping to leave government-controlled areas on the evacuation bus scheme, which in return would see hundreds of Sunni insurgents moved out of government-besieged areas near Damascus.
A delay in the execution of the agreement left nearly all of the evacuees on both sides stuck at the two transit points overnight before the blast occurred. Exhaustion on part of the evacuees made the emergency response measures more difficult. Prior to the explosion, Syrian Red Crescent teams distributed meals to the evacuees stuck in the buses after having left their homes over 30 hours earlier.
The evacuations have resumed after the explosion while the security situation remains fragile.
The agreement, brokered by Iran and Qatar, is one of a number of deals signed in recent months that has led to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gaining control of many previously besieged areas again. Opposition groups in Syria say, however, that these evacuation deals have resulted in the forced displacement of Assad's opponents in the west of the country.
The United Nations says that more than 640,000 people live in besieged locations across Syria.
ss/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)