A resident of Zabadani — another rebel-held town to be evacuated — Amer Burhan says no evacuation had even taken place from there.
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“The people are restless and the situation is disastrous,” said Ahmed Afandar, a resident evacuated from his the opposition area near Madaya. “All these thousands of people are stuck in less than half a kilometre (500 yards).” He said the area was walled off from all sides and there were no restrooms.
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.
He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Yasser Abdellatif, a member of the powerful Ahrar al-Sham group which negotiated the deal, said at least 30 rebels were killed in the explosion. A senior rebel leader said 20 fighters who guarded the buses were killed as well as dozens of passengers.
Syrian state TV blamed the rebels for obstructing the deal, causing thousands of evacuees to be stuck in bus depots overnight.
Food was distributed after several hours and by early afternoon the evacuees from rebel-held areas were “pressured” to sit back on their buses, Afandar said. Afandar said people were not allowed to leave the buses for a while before they were let out.
Syrian TV previously said at least 39 people were killed in the explosion and a war monitor put the death toll at 24 in the area controlled by opposition fighters.
Personal belongings could be seen dangling out of the windows. 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. The state TV channel said the car was carrying food aid but a rebel spokesman said the car had been parked in the area and abandoned.
The explosion was caused by a car 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.
The explosion hit the Rashideen area, a rebel-controlled district outside Aleppo city where evacuation buses carrying nearly 5,000 people from the northern rebel-besieged villages of Foua and Kfraya were stuck, causing a huge plume of black smoke. 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.
Salloum Salloum, a lawmaker speaking on the pro-government al-Ikhbariya TV channel, said efforts were underway to resolve the problem, accusing the rebels of adding new conditions to the deal.
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Associated Press writer Philip Issa in Beirut contributed to this report.
The population transfer deal has been criticized by opponents as forced displacement and was not overseen by the United Nations.
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The evacuees from Madaya were expected to head to rebel-held Idlib, west of Aleppo. “We are not moving forward or backward,” he said.
15, 2017. (Thiqa News via AP) This frame grab from video provided by the Thiqa News Agency, shows rebel gunmen at the site of a blast that damaged several buses and vans at the Rashideen area, a rebel-controlled district outside Aleppo city, Syria, Saturday, April.
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Prior to the blast, Syrian Red Crescent teams had distributed meals to the restless evacuees, stuck in limbo after having left their homes over 30 hours earlier. Many were already voicing their dissatisfaction with the wait.
The explosion came as frustration was already mounting over the stalling evacuation process. Thousands of evacuees from the pro-government and opposition areas were stuck opposite sides of the edge of Aleppo city as rebels and government bickered over the terms for evacuating fighters.
BEIRUT — Syrian opposition rescue service says at least 100 people were killed Saturday in an explosion that hit near buses carrying people evacuated from a besieged area of government loyalists in Aleppo.