A powerful blast ripped through a bus convoy carrying evacuees near the Syrian city of Aleppo on Saturday, killing at least 100 people and injuring 48 others, according to state media and rescuers who responded to the scene.
Syrian state television said the convoy was hit by a suicide attacker with a car bomb. Pro-government activists claimed the vehicle used was a pick-up truck purporting to deliver food for the evacuees.
Mohammad Taqi Din, the head of the crisis committee for the towns of Foua and Kefraya, said in a WhatsApp message on Saturday that the number of dead had risen to 40.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Up to 5,000 evacuees had left a day earlier from Foua and Kefraya, a pair of Shiite-dominated towns in northwestern Syria, roughly 31 miles southwest of Aleppo, as part of a complex population swap brokered by Iran, Qatar and Turkey.
The towns had been encircled for years by a loose coalition of hard-line Islamist rebels, including the faction Ahrar al Sham as well as the former Al Qaeda affiliate Organization for the Liberation of Syria (once known as the Nusra Front).
Residents of Foua and Kefraya were joined by 2,350 others from Madaya, a rebel-held enclave that, along with the Damascene resort town Zabadani, had been besieged by pro-government forces, including the Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah.
The United Nations described the situation in the four towns as a “looming humanitarian catastrophe,” where tens of thousands of civilians were “trapped in a cycle of daily violence and deprivation.”
Officials brokered the “Four Towns Agreement,” which saw limited amounts of aid alleviate acute shortages of food and medicine, before a final evacuation was pushed through earlier this week.
Evacuees had been waiting for more than 24 hours in the Rashideen area, the last point of rebel control before government-held Aleppo. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition monitoring group that tracks the carnage in the country, said there had been some objection by the rebel factions involved in the deal.
Mohammad Khair Hak, a pro-opposition cameraman who was at the gathering point of the buses, posted a video on his Facebook page purporting to show the aftermath of the blast.
The camera lingers on the first buses in the convoy, their right side completely obliterated by what Hak described as a “huge explosion.” On the ground are the remains of corpses partially hidden by a motley collection of brightly colored blankets.
Somewhere in the distance a group of people shout “ambulance, ambulance,” while the camera captures the body of what appears to be a little boy hanging out the window of one of the buses.
Many fear that the attack will scuttle the evacuation agreement, which had taken months to negotiate. Thousands still remain in the four towns.
11:45 a.m.: This article has been update with a new death toll.
8:50 a.m.: This story has been updated with Times staff reporting.
This article was first published at 7:55 a.m.