Deadly blast hits Syria evacuee convoy

A car bomb has blasted a convoy of coaches carrying evacuees from government-held towns near Aleppo in Syria, reportedly killing 16 people.

It shattered coaches and set cars on fire, leaving a trail of bodies, as the convoy waited at a marshalling point in rebel-held territory at Rashidin.

Report says thousands of evacuees from both sides of Syria’s civil war have been stuck in hostile territory since Friday.

The ‘Four Towns’ deal was meant to relieve suffering in areas under siege.

Report says about 30,000 besieged people would be taken out of two rebel-held towns and two under government control, but up to 5,000 government evacuees and 2,200 from rebel towns are now stranded.

Last month, the UN described the situation in the pro-government north-western towns of Foah and Kefraya, and the rebel-held towns of Madaya and Zabadani near Damascus, as ‘catastrophic’.

The UN said “More than 64,000 civilians are trapped in a cycle of daily violence and deprivation”.

Rebels say Damascus breached the terms of the deal brokered by Iran and Qatar, accusing the government of trying to bring out more loyalist fighters than agreed.

A previous attempt at mutual evacuations failed in December when rebels burnt coaches due to be sent to the towns.

“There’s no drinking water or food,” Madaya resident, 24 years old  Ahmed  said. Speaking from the bus garage in Aleppo where he and others had been reportedly waiting since Friday night.

“The bus garage is small so there’s not much space to move around. We’re sad and angry about what has happened,” he said.

The evacuees are meant to be transferred to rebel-held territory in Idlib province.

Report says coaches carrying government evacuees had not moved in 30 hours.

It says the Syrian Arab Red Crescent was distributing food and water to the waiting passengers, who include 3,700 civilians.

Many people are reported to have died as a result of shortages of food or medicine in the four towns.

Foah and Kefraya, most of whose residents are Shia Muslims, have been encircled by rebels and al-Qaeda-linked Sunni Muslim jihadists since March 2015.

Madaya and Zabadani, which are predominantly Sunni, have been besieged since June 2015 by the Syrian army and fighters from Lebanon’s Shia Muslim Hezbollah movement.