By Adham Kako, Levent Tok and Mehmet Kemal Firik
ISTANBUL, Turkey (AA): At least 112 people were killed Saturday when a blast in southern Aleppo hit buses ferrying Syrians evacuated from two besieged Shia Muslim towns, a civil defense official said. Over 500 people have been injured, some critical.
“When the civil defense forces were transferred to the scene, they removed more than 100 bodies. Most of the deaths are made up of women and children,” Ammar al- Selmo, the head of the civil defense rescue service, told Anadolu Agency.
Late on Saturday buses began crossing into both government-held and rebel-held territory from the two transit points as the deal resumed, pro-Damascus media and the pro-rebel Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported.
The blast hit buses in the Al Rashidin area on Aleppo’s outskirts. The vehicles had been waiting since Friday to cross from rebel-held territory into the government-controlled city itself.
The convoy was carrying residents and pro-government fighters from the Shi’a Muslim villages of al-Foua and Kefraya, which are besieged by rebels, some al-Qa’ida, in nearby Idlib province, an insurgent stronghold.
They had left under a deal where, in exchange, hundreds of Sunni insurgents and their families were granted safe passage from Madaya and Zabadani, government-besieged towns near Damascus.
Residents of al-Foua and Kefraya waited in the Rashidin area.
Rebels and residents of Madaya meanwhile waited at the government-held Ramousah bus garage, a few miles away. They were to be transported to Idlib.
The rebel group Ahrar al-Sham tweeted that some of its members died in the blast. They were at the site to ensure the convoy’s passage, Ahrar al-Sham said.
The explosives-rigged car had been packed with children’s food supplies, perhaps to disguise it, a correspondent with Syrian news agency, SANA, reported. This is why large numbers of children were killed and injured as they were attracted to the vehicle caryying children’s food.
SANA’s correspondent in Aleppo said that terrorists detonated a car bomb in the area where buses and ambulances have been parked for more than 24 hours in al-Rashidin area to transport 5,000 citizens of Kefraya and al-Foua’a towns.
Earlier, Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) field coordinator, Mehmet Suayip Altun, told Anadolu Agency tens of people had been killed in the explosion which hit an evacuation convoy in Aleppo’s Ramuse district.
“The people were transferred to nearby hospitals by ambulances, pickups and all kinds of vehicles. Of course, the [population] exchange has stopped,” Altun said.
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.
While casualty figures for Saturday’s incident have not yet appeared, Turkish officials in the southern border province of Hatay said 19 injured people had been taken to hospitals in Turkey.
The security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said more ambulances were transferred to the Cilvegozu border gate in Hatay’s Reyhanli district.
No one has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack.
The deal was brokered by Iran and Qatar.
Additional news from Agencies and The Muslim News
[Photo: Vehicle laden with bombs and children’s food exploded killing over 100 Shia Muslims waiting to be evacuated in Al Rashid, near Aleppo. Photo by SANA]