At least 39 people are dead after a car bomb exploded near a convoy carrying evacuees from besieged areas of Syria, human rights groups and Syrian media report.
NPR’s Alison Meuse tells our Newscast unit, the convoy had been transporting residents of government-held towns in accordance with a “reciprocal agreement” between Syrian and rebel forces:
“They were residents of two besieged Shia minority villages, who’d been besieged by rebels for years. They were evacuating under a deal contingent on residents of two pro-rebel towns being allowed to evacuate.”
The Associated Press describes the aftermath of the blast, occurring in the Rashideen area, which is a rebel-controlled district outside Aleppo. According to the news service, state television aired images of buses “charred” and “gutted” by the blast and bodies lying near the site of the attack.
The Syrian government said the car had been supposedly carrying aid to the evacuees, while rebels claim the car was stationary and had been parked near the stalled convoy.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The convoy, which was supposed to move into the nearby Idlib province, had been stalled for some 30 hours.
The BBC adds that according to the “Four Towns” deal, some 30,000 people were planned to be relocated, but nearly 7,000 people — on both sides of the conflict — have been stranded since Friday:
“The complex choreography of this exchange has been attempted before on a smaller scale, reports Sebastian Usher, the BBC’s Arab affairs editor. There must now be concern over whether it can continue at all, he adds. …
“Rebels say Damascus breached the terms of the deal, accusing the government of trying to bring out more loyalist fighters than agreed.”
Allison further points out that the deal has been controversial and subject to accusations of forcing demographic change.