A bomb blast hit a bus convoy waiting to enter Aleppo killing and wounding dozens of people after an evacuation deal between Syria’s warring sides was halted.
Pro-Damascus media outlets said a suicide attacker had detonated a car bomb and killed at least 22 people, while the British-based monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights counted 24 dead and dozens more wounded.
Images posted by the outlets showed bodies lying next to charred buses with their windows blown out, and flaming vehicles belching out thick black smoke.
The blast hit buses in the Rashidin area on Aleppo’s outskirts, which had been waiting to cross from rebel-held territory into the Government-controlled city itself, carrying people evacuated from two Shiite villages on Friday.
The residents, alongside hundreds of pro-Government fighters, had left the two rebel-besieged villages in north-west Idlib province under a deal where in exchange, hundreds of Sunni insurgents and their families moved out of a Government-besieged area near Damascus.
But a delay in the agreement had left all those thousands of people evacuated stuck at two transit points on Aleppo’s outskirts since late on Friday.
Residents of al-Foua and Kefraya, the Shiite villages, were waiting in the Rashidin area.
The rebels and residents of Madaya near Damascus were waiting at the Government-held Ramousah bus garage, a few kilometres away.
They were to be transported to Idlib province, which the armed opposition controls.
The agreement is one of several over recent months that has seen President Bashar al-Assad’s Government take back control of areas long besieged by his forces and their allies.
The observatory said the delay was because the rebels from Zabadani, another town near Damascus included in the deal, had not yet been granted safe passage out.
A pro-opposition activist said insurgents blamed the delay partly on the fact that a smaller number of pro-government fighters had left the Shiite villages than was agreed.
Syria’s opposition had said the evacuation deals, which have included areas of Aleppo and a district in the western city of Homs, amount to forced displacement of Mr Assad’s opponents from Syria’s main urban centres.
The agreements are also causing demographic changes, they say, because those who are displaced are mostly Sunni Muslims, while Mr Assad is from the Alawite religious minority, often considered an offshoot of Shiite Islam.