Scores of people set for evacuation from two besieged towns in northern Syria were killed and many others were wounded Saturday in an apparent car bombing that targeted a bus convoy carrying them to safety.
Details were sketchy late in the day, as rescue workers combed through the wreckage near the northern city of Aleppo. The opposition website Enab Baladi, citing preliminary information, said at least 80 people were killed, while the rescue organization known as the White Helmets reported at least 100 dead.
Most of the victims were believed to be residents of two Shi’ite villages that had been surrounded by Islamists for months.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But Sunni jihadist groups, including the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaida, operate in the area and routinely attack Shi’ites, whom they consider apostates.
The U.S. embassy in Syria tweeted, “The United States strongly condemns today’s barbaric attacks against innocent civilians, including women & children, in northern #Syria.”
A deal between the Damascus government and opposition fighters guaranteeing the safety of the villagers stalled Friday, stranding thousands of evacuees for hours before the attack unfolded on the outskirts of Aleppo.
Video on state television later showed charred bodies and mangled buses, which had been carrying pro-government Shi’ite fighters and civilians from the besieged villages toward the government-controlled city. Other footage showed ambulances ferrying the wounded to area hospitals.
Far to the south, the deal — brokered by Iran and Qatar — simultaneously granted hundreds of Sunni insurgents and their families near Damascus safe passage to Idlib province near the Turkish border.
By late Saturday, monitors from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the convoy near Aleppo was again under way, while official Syrian media said the first buses carrying Shi’ite evacuees had reached government safety in Aleppo.