by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
DAMASCUS, Syria — Over 3,000 Syrian civilians were scheduled to be evacuated from four areas on Sunday, April 16th, as part of a “population transfer[.]” Despite a suicide bomb that killed over 100 people on Saturday, the evacuation has been postponed due to unknown reasons.
On Saturday, April 15th, several buses evacuated over 5,000 residents from the northern towns of Fuaa and Kafraya. As the buses were waiting at a bus depot transit point in Rashidin, a rebel-held town west of Aleppo, several suicide car bombs were detonated. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated that the explosions killed nearly 126 people, including at least sixty-eight children, and injured hundreds more. A majority of the deceased, 109 out of 126, were evacuees. The remainder were aid workers and rebels tasked with guarding the evacuation convoy. The rights group further stated that a nearby gas station was also affected by the blast, which led to an increase in the number of victims.
The attack was apparently carried out with a pick-up truck, and nothing but its shell and engine block remained after the detonations. The explosions left “[b]ody parts and the belongings of evacuees[,]” such as clothing, dishes “and even televisions[,]” scattered throughout the attack site. Images released of the site showed bodies “lying alongside buses, some of which were charred and others gutted from the blast.” A young girl who had been wounded in the bombing lost four of her siblings. She stated that a man in the pick-up truck approached children “who had been deprived of food for years[,]” and told them to “come and eat potato chips.” She stated that the explosion happened shortly after several children had gathered, and that some were “torn  to pieces.”
The suicide bombings have not yet been claimed by any party. One of the rebel groups, Ahrar al-Sham, which negotiated the evacuation deal, has denied any involvement. The Syrian government blamed the attacks on “terrorists[,]” which has been the “catch-all term for its opponents.”
The suicide bombings drew immediate international protest. The United Nations Aid Chief, Mr. Stephen O’Brien, condemned the bombing. He released a statement in which he characterized those responsible for carrying out the attacks as “monstrous and cowardly[,]” and indicated that they portrayed a “shameless disregard for human life.” Pope Francis urged “an end to the war in Syria[.]” The Executive Director of UNICEF, Mr. Anthony Lake, stated that a new “horror” has emerged after six years of war in Syria, one which must “break the heart of anyone who has one.”
Despite the agreement to evacuate residents, Sunday’s scheduled transfers were halted after the explosions. The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Mr. Rami Abdurrahman, stated that the evacuations were delayed because “permission” had not been given for it to proceed. An opposition activist, Mr. Hussam Mahmoud, stated that it was postponed due to “logistical reasons.” No announcement has been made as to whether the transfers were delayed out of fear of recurring bombings.
The evacuations, which were not being overseen by the United Nations, involves residents of the towns of Fuaa, Kafraya, Madaya and Zabadani. All four towns have been under siege for several years. The unaffected buses from the explosion site resumed their trip a few hours after the bombing and reached their destinations.
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