A bomb blast believed to be the result of a suicide bomber struck a bus convoy waiting to enter the Syrian city of Aleppo on Saturday. Reports thus far indicate more than twenty-four people were killed and dozens more were injured.
The blast occurred as the buses sat waiting after an evacuation deal between the Syrian government and opposition forces was suddenly halted, leaving thousands of Syrians stranded at transit points in the outskirts of the city.
The explosion struck in the Rashidin area of Aleppo’s outskirts as it was waiting to cross from rebel-held territory into the city that falls under governmental control. It was carrying people evacuated from two different Shiite villages on Friday when it was struck by a car bomb driven by an unknown suicide bomber.
The residents inside the buses had left two rebel-besieged villages alongside hundreds of pro-government fighters. Their travel was permitted under an agreement that also saw many Sunni insurgents granted the opportunity to flee villages near Damascus that were similarly under siege by Assad’s forces.
A breakdown in the agreement between Assad’s government and opposition forces saw the endeavor halted, however, placing the Syrian civilians in the treacherous position of having to wait inside their busses or in bus garages to learn their fate. According to some reports, the deal was halted due to a dispute over rebels from another town, Zabadani, not being granted passage by government troops as they’d been promised. Other pro-opposition outlets have reported that the delay could also have been caused in part by fewer pro-government forces leaving Shiite villages than the agreement called for.
According to reports from the scene, the bus that was attacked had been sitting stationary for nearly thirty-hours at the time of the explosion.
Conditions for those waiting to be permitted safe passage were already grim for many, well before explosions started claiming lives. Many Syrians have been trapped in their busses or in bus garages for more than a day without any basic supplies. In order to maintain the agreement, no one has been permitted to leave.
“There’s no drinking water or food. The bus garage is small so there’s not much space to move around,” Ahmed, 24, said. “We’re sad and angry about what has happened. Many people felt that they had been forced to leave.”
“There was no other choice in the end – we were besieged inside a small area in Madaya.”
Many Syrians have died in these besieged towns due to a lack of food, medicine, and clean drinking water.
Reports from out of Syria state that Russian troops have now moved into place to shield rebel evacuee buses from the possibility of retaliation, which may be seen as a meaningful gesture as Russia has provided military backing to Assad throughout his six-year fight against opposition forces. Earlier this month, Assad is believed to have launched a chemical weapon attack against rebel-friendly civilians in the Idlib province – prompting the United States to take military action to prevent Assad from being capable of launching a similar strike again and a good deal of tough talk between the opposition backed by the United States and Assad friendly Russian government.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack yet, however the last time a similar evacuation was attempted, rebels burned pro-government buses when their deal began to deteriorate. Because the rebels are once again claiming Assad violated the terms of this latest evacuation deal, it stands to reason that they may have ordered or carried out the suicide bombing – but at this point, such an accusation stands as little more than conjecture.
Image courtesy of Reuters