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Death toll in Syrian car bomb attack rises to 43

The attack targeted residents evacuated from the northern towns of Fuaa and Kafraya.

Syria A frame grab from a video provided by the Thiqa News Agency shows rebel gunmen at the site of the blast Source: AP/PA Images

Updated 18.53

A SUICIDE CAR bomb attack on buses carrying Syrians evacuated from two besieged government-held towns has killed 43 people, as US-backed fighters advanced in their push towards the Islamic State group’s Raqa stronghold.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack in Rashidin, west of Aleppo, targeted residents evacuated from the northern towns of Fuaa and Kafraya under a deal reached between the regime and rebels.

Bodies were still being recovered from the attack at a transit point in Rashidin, west of Aleppo, according to the Observatory.

An AFP reporter in rebel-held Rashidin saw several bodies, body parts and blood scattered on the ground.

“The suicide bomber was driving a van supposedly carrying aid supplies and detonated near the buses,” the Observatory said.

It warned that the death toll was likely to rise given the “several dozen wounded” at the blast site.

It said that most of the dead were evacuees, but also included several rebels who had been guarding the buses.

Thousands of evacuees had been stuck on the road because of a disagreement over the number of rebels allowed to leave two other towns included in the deal, but the process restarted following the blast, the Observatory said.

Syria Buses damaged by the blast Source: AP/PA Images

State television said the car bombing had been carried out by “terrorist groups”, a term the regime applies to all armed opposition groups.

It was not immediately clear if rebels at the transit point were among the dead.

The attack took place as thousands of evacuees from the besieged government-held towns of Fuaa and Kafraya waited to continue their journey to regime-controlled Aleppo, the coastal province of Latakia, or Damascus.

Evacuations

More than 5,000 people who had lived under crippling siege for more than two years left the two towns, along with 2,200 evacuated from rebel-held Madaya and Zabadani, on Friday.

They were headed for regime or rebel-held areas via government-held second city Aleppo.

Thousands of evacuees from Fuaa and Kafraya were stuck on the road in Rashidin when the bomb went off.

The evacuation, brokered by regime ally Iran and rebel backer Qatar, is set to see more than 30,000 people evacuated in two stages.

The deal had stipulated that in the first stage 8,000 people, including 2,000 loyalist fighters, leave the two towns but in the event just 5,000, including 1,300 fighters left, the Britain-based Observatory said.

Syria Source: AP/PA Images

Evacuees were left stranded as differences emerged over the number of loyalist fighters leaving, a rebel source said, refusing to elaborate as “negotiations are under way.”

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

The deal to evacuate the towns was the latest in a string of such agreements, touted by the government as the best way to end the fighting. Rebels say they have been forced out by siege and bombardment.

The regime has retaken several key rebel strongholds including eastern Aleppo since a Russian military intervention in September 2015.

Syria’s war has left more than 320,000 people dead since erupting in 2011, with more than half the population forced from their homes and hundreds of thousands enduring siege-like conditions.

It has sucked in regional and international powers and allowed jihadist groups to seize vast areas of the country.

US-backed fighters reached the outskirts of a key jihadist-held town in northern Syria today as part of an offensive aimed at the IS bastion of Raqa.

© – AFP, 2017

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