Syrian TV says dozens killed in blast near evacuation buses

Residents from the two villages had been evacuated Friday, along with more than 2,000 from Madaya, an opposition-held town outside of Damascus besieged by government forces. In footage aired on Syrian TV, bodies were strewn outside buses, including fighters.

He said civil defense units received a blast report at 4 p.m. (1300GMT) local time, adding that at least 40 people had been injured in the incident.

The explosion was caused by a auto bomb, according to Syrian TV and the opposition Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, who put the death toll at 24 and said it would likely rise.

At the time, the USA officials said al-Hakim was believed to be linked to the 2015 attacks at the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, mentoring the brothers who gunned down the cartoonists at the French paper in 2015.

Ahrar al-Sham says the attack only serves to defame the rebels and serve to deflect from the government's "crimes" against opposition-held areas, the latest being the chemical attack where over 80 people were killed. A war monitor put the death toll at 24 in the area controlled by opposition fighters.

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.




Activists including the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said buses carrying rebels began leaving the rebel-held towns Madaya and Zabadani near Damascus on Friday morning in the first phase of the deal, which will also see the evacuation of residents from two pro-government Shiite villages in northern Syria.

Syrian state TV blamed the rebels for obstructing the deal, causing thousands of evacuees to be stuck in bus depots overnight. Critics say the deal amounts to "demographic engineering".

The explosion hit an area where buses carrying almost 5,000 people from Foua and Kfraya, villages in northern Syria that have been besieged by rebels.

An opposition representative, Ali Diab, accused the government side of violating the terms of the agreement, by evacuating fewer armed men than agreed to from the pro-government areas.

The exchange agreement, hammered out between the Bashar al-Assad regime and opposition forces on March 30, called for the evacuation of thousands of civilians and fighters from besieged parts of Syria.

The exact reasons for the delay in completing the evacuation deal were also unclear. A Facebook page belonging to the pro-government Foua and Kfraya villages said all those in three buses were killed or are still missing while a rebel official said at least 30 opposition fighters who were guarding the evacuees were killed in the blast. "They were evacuating under a deal contingent on residents of two pro-rebel towns being allowed to evacuate".

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