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More than 100 Syrian evacuees killed in bus depot blast

A deadly explosion has killed at least 100 people, including children, government supporters and opposition fighters, at an evacuation point outside Aleppo city.

The blast ripped through a bus depot in the al-Rashideen area where thousands of government loyalists evacuated the day before had waited restlessly for hours.

Opposition fighters guarded the area while negotiators bickered over the completion of the transfer deal.

Only metres away, hundreds of evacuees from pro-rebel areas also loitered in a walled-off parking area, guarded by government troops.

Footage from the scene showed bodies, including those of fighters, lying alongside buses, some of which were charred and others gutted from the blast.

Personal belongings could be seen dangling out of the windows. Fires raged from a number of vehicles as rescuers struggled to put them out.

The scenes were the last in the unyielding bloodshed Syrians are living through.

Earlier this month at least 89 people were killed in a chemical attack as children foaming at the mouth and adults gasping for last breath were also caught on camera.

The bloody mayhem that followed the Saturday attack only deepened the resentment of the transfer, criticised as population engineering.

It also reflected the chaos surrounding negotiations between the warring parties.

The United Nations did not oversee the transfer deal of the villages of Foua and Kfraya, besieged by the rebels, and Madaya and Zabadani, encircled by the government.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack but pro-government media and the opposition exchanged accusations, each pointing to foreign interference or conspiracies undermining the deal.

State TV al-Ikhbariya said the attack was the result of a car bomb carrying food aid to be delivered to the evacuees in the rebel-held area - ostensibly crisps for the children - and accused rebel groups of carrying it out.

"I know nothing of my family. I can't find them," said a woman who appeared on al-Ikhbariya, weeping outside the state hospital in Aleppo where the wounded were transported.

Ahrar al-Sham, the rebel group that negotiated the deal, denounced the "cowardly" attack, saying a number of opposition fighters as well as government supporters were killed in the attack.

The group said the attack only serves to deflect the attention from government "crimes" and said it was ready to co-operate with an international probe to determine who did it.

Yasser Abdelatif, a media official for Ahrar al-Sham, said about 30 rebel gunmen were killed in the blast. He accused the government or extremist rebel groups of orchestrating the attack to discredit the opposition.

A Facebook page belonging to the pro-government Foua and Kfraya villages said all those in three buses were killed or are still missing while a rebel official said at least 30 opposition fighters who were guarding the evacuees were killed in the blast.

According to Abdul Hakim Baghdadi, an interlocutor who helped the government negotiate the evacuations, 140 were killed in the attack. He added it was not clear how many rebels were killed because they were evacuated to their areas.

Hours after the explosion, the transfer resumed, as dozens of buses, starting with the wounded, left for their respective destinations.

Before midnight Saturday, 100 of some 120 buses from both sides had already arrived.

The co-ordinated evacuations delivered war-weary fighters and residents from two years of siege and hunger, but moved Syria closer to a division of its national population by loyalty and sect.

Critics say the string of evacuations, which could see some 30,000 people moved across battle lines over the next 60 days, amounts to forced displacement along political and sectarian lines.

AP

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