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Syria blast toll at 112; evacuation efforts resume

BEIRUT

The death toll in a suicide car bomb attack on buses carrying Syrians evacuated from two besieged government-held towns has risen to at least 112, a monitoring group said on Sunday.

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.

It said the rest of the dead were aid workers and rebels tasked with guarding the buses.

It warned the death toll may rise further as “hundreds” more were wounded in the blast.

Dozens of buses carrying several thousand refugees had been stuck by the roadside in the rebel-held town of Rashidin after leaving Fuaa and Kafraya on Friday under a deal reached between the government and opposition groups.

Fuaa and Kafraya have been under rebel siege for more than two years. As part of the deal, several hundred people including armed rebels will be transported out of Madaya and Zabadani, towns near Damascus, which are surrounded by pro-government forces.

The government blamed Saturday’s attack on “terrorists” — its catch-all term for opposition groups.

The influential rebel Ahrar Al Sham force denied involvement, with a senior official tweeting: “Our role was to secure civilians not kill them.”

The blast puts the four-town evacuation deal, brokered partly by rebel backer Qatar and government ally Iran, in doubt.

The Observatory said after the bombing that the evacuation process had resumed, but it was not immediately clear on Sunday if convoys had restarted their journeys.

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 said by telephone from near Aleppo.

“I didn’t know what was happening, all I could hear was people crying and shouting,” she said.

“All I can think about is how we survived all the death during the last few years and then could have died just after we finally escaped.”

More than 5,000 people left Fuaa and Kafraya and about 2,200 left Madaya and Zabadani on Friday, the latest in a series of evacuations from the four towns under the agreement.

The evacuation process resumed after the bombing, the Observatory said, with the residents of Fuaa and Kafraya eventually arriving in Aleppo, Syria’s second city which the government gained full control of last year.

Agencies