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Syria evacuations resume after deadly bombing

The evacuation of fighters and civilians from four besieged Syrian towns has resumed after a deadly weekend bombing. Some 30,000 people should be moved as part of the deal.

A convoy of buses carrying some 3,000 fighters and civilians from the rebel-besieged villages of Fuaa and Kafraya in Idlib province reached the rebel-held transit point of Rashidin, near government-controlled Aleppo, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said on Wednesday. 

Separately, a convoy carrying several hundred rebel fighters and civilians from government-besieged Zabadani made its way to rebel-held territory in Idlib.

The negotiated transfer of fighters and civilians from the two pro-government Shiite villages and two opposition-held towns in opposite parts of the country was put on hold after more than 120 people, including nearly 70 children, were killed in a bombing at the Rashidin transfer point on Saturday.

No group has claimed credit for the bombing of those leaving Fuaa and Kafraya, which reportedly occurred after an unknown person lured hungry children with candy to a car prior to the explosion.

The UN said Wednesday that the attack "likely amounts to a war crime," while the Syrian government earlier pinned blame on rebel "terrorists."

An al-Qaeda linked rebel alliance controls large parts of Idlib province. It has clashed periodically with the powerful ultra-conservative Ahrar al-Sham rebel faction, which condemned the attack and said some of its fighters were also killed.

Qatar, one of Ahrar al-Sham's backers, and Iran, a regime ally, hammered out the population transfer after months of negotiations.

Madaya and Zabadani, two largely Sunni towns near Damascus, have been under siege by pro-government forces for nearly two years. The largely Shiite villages of Fuaa and Kafraya have similarly been under siege by rebels. All the towns have suffered from lack of medicine, food, water and other supplies.

According to the UN, some 600,000 people in Syria are under siege, mostly by government-allied forces. 

After Wednesday, some 8,000 fighters and civilians will have left Fuaa and Kafraya to government-held areas of Aleppo, while another 2,500 civilians and rebel fighters will have been transferred to Idlib province.

In all, more than 30,000 people are expected to be transferred as part of the deal over a two month period.

The evacuations are the latest in what the Assad regime calls "reconciliation" deals. Most of the deals have involved moving rebel fighters and civilians from towns besieged by pro-government forces to areas controlled by rebels in Idlib and a slice of territory in northern Syria controlled by Turkish-backed rebels. 

The Assad regime says the deals are the best way to end violence and restore government control and services. Critics say the transfers amount to forced displacement.

cw/sms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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