Dozens of people were killed Saturday in Syria when a bomb exploded near an evacuation convoy waiting to cross into government-held Aleppo as part of a controversial population transfer deal, Syrian state TV has reported. A car bomb detonated in a violent explosion at an evacuation point south of Aleppo, targeting the more than 50 buses carrying people from two besieged towns in northern Syria that had been waiting for the stalled transfer deal to restart. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the death toll to be at least 43, but noted that number was expected to rise given the number of critical injuries.
UPDATE: According to Syria Civil Defense, around 100 people were killed in the car bomb explosion.
EARLIER: Buses carrying residents of Al-Fu'ah and Kafriya, two rebel-besieged towns in northern Syria were waiting to cross from rebel-held territory into government-controlled Aleppo on Saturday when a suicide car bomb exploded. Images of the scene broadcast on Syrian State TV showed disturbing scenes of bodies lying on the ground next to vehicles engulfed in flames and plumes of black smoke as well as charred buses with their windows blown out. According to the Associated Press, at least 39 people, including civilians and rebel fighters, had been killed in the blast.
Residents from Al-Fu'ah and Kafriya were being evacuated to Aleppo. In exchange, residents from the government-besieged towns of Madaya and Zabadani in southern Syria were to be evacuated to the rebel stronghold of Idlib province, according to the BBC. However, disagreement over the number of fighters that could be evacuated along with residents from the four villages caused a delay in finalizing the population transfer deal and left many evacuees hanging in limbo. Buses from Al-Fo'ah, Kafriya, Madaya, and Zabadani had reportedly been waiting at least 30 hours at two separate evacuation points along the outskirts of Aleppo at the time of Saturday's bombing.
According to Reuters, evacuees from Madaya and Zabadani, who being held at another evacuation point in another area of Aleppo's outskirts, feared they would be targeted in a revenge attack. In an effort to de-escalate the situation, they reportedly released a statement on social media asking "international organizations" to intervene in getting the population transfer deal back on track.
Hours after Saturday's deadly bombing in Aleppo's outskirts, Syria state TV reported the population transfer had resumed. Iran and Qatar had helped broker the controversial population transfer deal in an effort to allow residents trapped in the besieged towns to leave. Critics have characterized the population transfer deal as a form of forced displacement and "demographic engineering."