DAMASCUS: The death toll from a bomb attack targeting evacuees leaving besieged Syrian towns has risen to 126, a monitoring group said Sunday.
The blast hit a convoy of buses Saturday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reported the higher death toll.
The blast struck buses of people leaving their towns as part of a rebel-regime swap. At least 109 of those killed were evacuees from the pro-regime villages of Al-Fu’ah and Kafraya while the rest were aid workers and rebels guarding the convoy, according to the Syrian Observatory.
At least 68 children were among those killed in the attack on Saturday. In addition to the deaths, it also injured 55 others in Rashidin, a suburb of Aleppo, according to Syria Civil Defense. The convoy of buses, which were parked at the time, was carrying thousands of people from two regime-held but rebel-besieged villages in northwestern Syria, state-run media reported.
People were evacuating two rebel-held towns in southwest Syria at the same time under a so-called Four Towns Agreement.
Video shown on state television showed charred buses parked on the side of a road. People walked outside the buses, surveying the damage as well as bodies lying on the roadway and a grass median.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported the convoy continued, and the first buses arrived late Saturday in Aleppo. The buses headed to the Jebrin area for a temporary housing center equipped with food and medical supplies.
No group has claimed responsibility.
During a televised interview, Rami Abdul Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said a suicide bomber claimed he was carrying food items and blew himself up in a fuel station.
Abdul Rahman said he doesn’t believe the Syrian regime is behind the attack. He said the regime kills scores of people daily using all types of weaponry and doesn’t need to kill its own sympathizers.
The evacuees had been allowed to leave their villages this week as part of a Shia-Sunni exchange agreement between Syria and insurgents. As part of the deal, government forces are allowing thousands of rebels and civilians to leave two towns in southwest Syria: Madaya and Zabadani, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Madaya and Zabadani have been under the control of anti-government fighters but facing siege from forces loyal to the regime.
The rebel group Ahrar al-Sham tweeted that some of its members died in the blast. They were at the site to ensure the convoy’s passage, Ahrar al-Sham said. The group said it was investigating to find out who was responsible.
A statement from the spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary-General said: “The evacuations were being conducted in accordance with the agreement reached pursuant to the Four Towns agreement. …
“We call on the parties to ensure the safety and security of those waiting to be evacuated. Those responsible for today’s attack must be brought to justice.”