Thousands of evacuated Syrians stuck as transfer stalls


A suicide vehicle bomb has hit a convoy of buses carrying civilians out of two besieged Syrian towns, killing at least 43 people and wounding several others. Al-Ikhbariya TV said 48 wounded were transported in exchange for allowing five buses of residents from opposition areas to head toward a rebel-controlled province.

Thousands of Syrians were stuck in and around Aleppo on Saturday as a deal to evacuate two Shi'ite villages in return for Sunni rebels and their families being allowed to leave two besieged towns near Damascus stalled, a monitor and activists said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the explosion occurred at Rashidin, and targeted residents evacuated from the northern towns of Fuaa and Kafraya under a deal reached between the government and rebels.

In footage aired on Syrian TV, bodies, including fighters, were seen lying alongside buses, some of which were charred and others gutted from the blast.

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

The Syrian Red Crescent, who was delivering food and water, said there were 3,700 civilians among the bus passengers. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. Under the deal, the rebel-held towns of Madaya and Zabadani and two government-held towns of Foah and Kefraya would be evacuated, a total of about 30,000 besieged people.

The White Helmets rescue group said 43 people had been killed and that the death toll was likely to rise. The Syrian government and rebels began a coordinated population transfer Friday of about 10,000 people from four towns besieged for years amid the country's bloody, six-year civil war. He said the area was walled off from all sides and there were no restrooms.

The evacuees are meant to be transferred to rebel-held territory in Idlib province.

"We are not moving forward or backward", he said.

Food has been distributed but those on board the buses do not have access to toilets.

Thousands of evacuees from Madaya and Zabadani were also stuck in regime-controlled Ramusa, south of Aleppo.

Earlier on Saturday, at the transit point where the buses from al-Foua and Kefraya were waiting, one resident said he was not yet sure where he would live.

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.

Some 30,000 besieged people would be taken out of two rebel-held towns and two under government control but, according to AFP news agency, up to 5,000 government evacuees and 2,200 from rebel towns are now stranded.