By Omar Haj Kadour and Rouba El Husseini , AFP
RASHIDIN, Syria — A massive car bomb attack on a convoy carrying evacuees from besieged government-held towns in Syria killed more than 100 people and wounded hundreds, a monitor said Sunday. The blast on Saturday tore through buses carrying residents from the northern towns of Fuaa and Kafraya as they waited at a transit point in rebel-held Rashidin, west of Aleppo. The evacuations were taking place under a deal between Syria’s regime and rebels that is also seeing residents and rebels transported out of Madaya and Zabadani, towns near Damascus which are surrounded by pro-government forces. The agreement is the latest in a string of evacuation deals, which the government of President Bashar al-Assad says are the best way to end the violence after more than six years of civil war.
Rebels say they amount to forced relocations after years of bombardment and crippling sieges. Body parts and the belongings of evacuees were still strewn at the scene of the attack on Sunday, an AFP correspondent said.
The shattered buses were parked nearby as was the shell of the pick-up truck — with little left but its engine block — that was used to carry out the bombing. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, though the key Ahrar al-Sham rebel group denied any involvement. The government blamed “terrorists” — a catch-all term for its opponents. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said Sunday that at least 112 people had died, after giving an initial toll of 43 dead on Saturday. At least 98 of the dead were evacuees, it said, with the rest aid workers and rebels who had been guarding the convoy. ‘People crying and shouting’ Hundreds of people were wounded in the blast, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria to monitor the conflict. It said a petrol station at the transit point was caught in the explosion, adding to the number of victims. Maysa, a 30-year-old evacuee from Kafraya, said she was sitting on one of the buses with her six-month-old son Hadi and 10-year-old daughter Narjis when the blast shook the parked convoy. “Hadi was on my lap and Narjis on a chair next to me. When the explosion happened, I hugged them both and we fell to the floor,” she told AFP by telephone from near Aleppo.