Thousands of civilians and armed fighters began evacuating the besieged government and rebel-held towns of Zabadani and Madaya in Syria on Friday, the latest in a series of population transfers.
Earlier in the day, a source told Sputnik that a suicide attacker detonated a auto bomb in the Rashidin neighborhood of Aleppo near a convoy of buses carrying civilians evacuated from the Syrian Shiite towns of Fua and Kefraya.
The blast hit the Rashidin area on Aleppo's outskirts where dozens of buses, carrying mostly Shiite residents of two villages that are being evacuated in a deal between warring sides, were waiting to enter the city.
The explosion hit the Rashideen area, a rebel-controlled district outside Aleppo city where evacuation buses carrying almost 5,000 people from the northern rebel-besieged villages of Foua and Kfraya were stuck, causing a huge plume of black smoke.
The explosion was caused by a auto bomb, according to Syrian TV and the opposition Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, who put the death toll at 24 and said it would likely rise. A photo carried by al-Ikhbariya state TV showed a number of bodies strewn on the floor with a huge plume of black smoke rising in the background. A rebel official said at least 30 of his opposition fighters who were guarding the evacuees were killed in the blast.
He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media.
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Men, women and children packed onto buses leaving government-controlled Fuaa and Kafraya and rebel-held Madaya and Zabadani, with many expressing despair at not knowing when they might return.
The convoy was carrying residents and pro-government fighters from the Shi'ite villages of al-Foua and Kefraya, which are besieged by rebels in nearby Idlib province, an insurgent stronghold.
The explosion came as frustration was already mounting over the stalling evacuation process. Syrian Red Crescent teams distributed meals for the restless evacuees, who had left their homes over 30 hours earlier. "All these thousands of people are stuck in less than half a kilometer (500 yards)".
The rebels and residents of Madaya near Damascus were waiting at the government-held Ramousah bus garage, a few miles away.
"There are last minute deals; some people are refusing to leave the towns, others are getting on the buses, some have been registered and others haven't", he added, describing the operation as "colossal". "The bus garage is small so there's not much space to move around", Ahmed, 24, said.
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