RASHIDIN (Syria) • The death toll in a massive car bomb attack on a convoy carrying evacuees from besieged government-held towns in Syria has risen to at least 126, including at least 68 children, with hundreds more wounded, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said yesterday.
The blast on Saturday tore through vehicles carrying residents from the northern towns of Fuaa and Kafraya as they waited at a transit point in rebel-held Rashidin, west of Aleppo.
The evacuations were taking place under a deal between Syria's regime and rebels that is also seeing residents and rebels being transported out of Madaya and Zabadani, towns near Damascus which are surrounded by pro-government forces.
The agreement is the latest in a string of evacuation deals which the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said are the best way to end the violence after more than six years of civil war.
Body parts and the belongings of evacuees were still strewn at the scene of the attack yesterday.
The shattered buses were parked nearby, as was the shell of the pick-up truck - with little left but its engine block - that was used to carry out the bombing.
Eyewitnesses to the attack said the air filled with screams as passengers, some of them on fire, staggered out of the cloud of dust.
A man who gave his name as Ali described watching a frail old woman stumble and fall. "We reached her too late, her leg had snapped and there was nothing we could do. What did she do to deserve this? She was just someone's mother."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, though the key Ahrar al-Sham rebel group denied any involvement. The government blamed "terrorists" - a catch-all term for its opponents.
Maysa, a 30-year-old evacuee from Kafraya, said she was sitting in one of the buses with her six-month-old son, Hadi, and 10-year-old daughter, Narjis, when the blast shook the parked convoy.
"Hadi was on my lap and Narjis on a chair next to me. When the explosion happened, I hugged them both and we fell to the floor," she said by telephone from near Aleppo.
"I didn't know what was happening, all I could hear was people crying and shouting," she said.
The evacuation process resumed after the bombing, the Observatory said, with the residents of Fuaa and Kafraya eventually arriving in Aleppo, Syria's second-largest city, which the government gained full control of last year.
Wounded survivors were taken for treatment at an Aleppo hospital.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST