At least 126 people, including 68 children, have been killed and dozens were injured on Saturday near Aleppo as a result of the explosion of a vehicle loaded with explosives along with the convoys carrying out the evacuation agreed on Friday by the regime and the rebels of Syria, according to the balance of victims updated on Sunday by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The agreement was aimed at the transfer to safe areas of some 30,000 civilians and combatants from four besieged towns, two in the hands of the government and two others held by the opposition. The seriousness of the state of many of the injured makes fear that the death toll will increase even more.
Images from a local website broadcast by Reuters showed several bodies, including several women and children, along with several smoking buses, as well as dozens of injured, some with members amputated by the shock wave, in one of the most serious attacks. serious ones registered in the Syrian conflict.
Witnesses to the attack told a France Presse reporter that a van supposedly loaded with humanitarian aid had been embedded in a convoy of about 75 coaches before it exploded.
The operation to displace the besieged population had been paralyzed on Saturday morning in Rachidin, in an insurgent area west of Aleppo, a city controlled entirely by the regime since last December. Discrepancies about the number of armed militiamen that could be transported seemed to be the cause of the blockade.
Some 5,000 evacuees from the Shiite government towns of Al Fua and Kefraya (Idlib, northwest) were held at the point where the explosion occurred. The Observatory pointed out that the great majority of the fatalities came from both populations, although some members of the opposition units that monitored the caravan or were part of humanitarian aid teams also perished.
Another 2,200 civilians and fighters from the insurgent Sunni towns of Madaya and Zabadani, in the province of Damascus, were also being held by troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Ramusa, a road junction on the south-western outskirts of Aleppo. The evacuation resumed in both areas at dusk on Saturday.
The four evacuated localities were besieged since 2015 by the respective enemy forces. The agreement for the transfer of the population was reached last March with the mediation of Iran, an ally of the Government, and of Qatar, which supports the opposition, although it had not been able to start up until now given the distrust generated among the contenders after more than six years of civil war.
Opposition supporters are expected to move to the province of Idlib, the main insurgent stronghold in northern Syria, while those in fenced government areas should head to Aleppo, Latakia or Damascus. Among the evacuees are a large number of women, children and the elderly, as well as hundreds of government fighters and insurgents authorized to keep their small arms. The regime and the rebels exchanged accusations about the authorship of the attack, which has not yet been claimed.
The United Nations has tried to bring humanitarian aid to besieged populations, but has barely managed to send a few convoys with food and medicine since 2015. Cases of malnutrition and diseases have multiplied. Some 600,000 people live in areas besieged by enemy troops and close to five million Syrians are in areas of difficult access because of the war.
In recent months, the regime of El Asad has offered the rebels a series of “local reconciliation agreements” so that they can abandon the fenced fortifications accompanied by their families. In exchange for their passage to the main fiefs of the insurgency, they must hand over positions that obliged the Army to divert forces from the main combat fronts.
The opposition denounces that the besieged are forced by hunger and deprivation to accept pacts that are unleashing a “cleansing” of Sunni rebels in areas of Alawi (branch of Shiite Islam) controlled by the Government, which constitutes a war crime.
In an interview published on Thursday by France Presse, Asad said that population movements were going to be provisional and residents could return to their cities once “cleared of terrorists (rebels, according to the regime’s name).” After the massive evacuations of civilians in Homs (2015) and East Aleppo (2016), the areas abandoned by the insurgents have become unpopulated districts.