THE death toll from a suspected suicide blast in northern Syria has risen to at least 126, and includes 68 children, local reports claim.
Saturday’s bus bomb hit an evacuation zone in Aleppo city where a convoy of dozens of buses – carrying evacuees from besieged Syrian towns – were parked.
Pro-regime state media reported the vehicle packed with explosives entered the procession of fleeing refugees.
The van was loaded with food and started distributing crisps, attracting many children before exploding, according to BBC Middle East correspondent Lina Sinjab.
The enormous blast shattered buses and set cars on ablaze, leaving a trail of bodies in its wake.
UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least 109 evacuees from government-held towns were killed, as well as aid workers and rebel soldiers.
“The suicide bomber was driving a van supposedly carrying aid supplies and detonated near the buses,” the Observatory said.
A senior rebel official said 20 rebels who guarded the buses were killed as well as dozens of passengers.
He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media.
The bomb detonated at Rashidin, west of government-occupied Aleppo at roughly 15:30 local time. It exploded at the checkpoint where the handover of evacuees was due to take place.
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The government and rebels disagreed over the number of gunmen to be evacuated, leaving the buses stuck for more than 30 hours and making them an easy target for attack.
Both sides denied responsibility for the attack, but Ms Sinjab said it was not clear how the vehicle could have reached the area without government permission.
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.
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 Observatory said.
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.
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