Thousands of evacuated Syrians stuck as transfer stalls

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A auto bomb in northern Syria killed dozens Saturday when it ripped through buses evacuating residents from a besieged government town.

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 24, and said the explosion was caused by a auto bomb.

The Observatory said the Fuaa and Kafraya buses were expected to head to government-held Aleppo city, while the Madaya evacuees were to head to Idlib.

The predominantly Shiite towns of Foua and Kfraya have remained loyal to the Syrian government while surrounding Idlib province has come under hard-line Sunni rebel rule.

Similar amnesties were extended to other areas that have surrendered to the government, including Moadamiyeh, Hameh, Qudsaya and the Barada Valley around the capital, and formerly rebellious neighborhoods in Aleppo and Homs, Syria's first and third largest cities, respectively.

A Madaya resident, speaking from the bus garage inside Aleppo, said people had been waiting there since late on Friday, and were not being allowed to leave. Yasser Abdelatif, a media official for Ahrar al-Sham, said about 30 rebel gunmen were killed in the blast.

The victims are believed to be from buses carrying residents evacuated from pro-regime villages.

No one knows the exact number of the victims yet, the eyewitness said, claiming that "there are more dead people inside the buses".

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The attack took place as thousands of evacuees from the besieged government-held towns of Fuaa and Kafraya waited to continue their journey to regime-controlled Aleppo, the coastal province of Latakia, or Damascus.

On Friday, buses set out from the regime-besieged Madaya and Zabadani districts carrying some 2,350 passengers, including nearly 1,000 opposition fighters. "The bus garage is small so there's not much space to move around", Ahmed, 24, said.

The SOHR said at least 2,100 residents, including rebel fighters, are due to be evacuated from Zabadani and Madaya and transported to Idlib.

In Syria's south, the opposition-held town of Madaya has endured a siege so tight that dozens have starved to death.

According to Reuters, "the opposition says the deals amount to forced demographic change and deliberate displacement of [Syrian President Bashar] Assad's enemies away from the main cities of western Syria".

Madaya and Al-Zadabani, both of which are located some 40 kilometers northwest of Damascus, are now encircled by regime forces, while Kefraya and Al-Fuaa - both in Syria's northwestern Idlib province - remain encircled by opposition forces.

Syria's population is mostly Sunni. Assad is from the minority Alawite sect and is supported by Shi'ite regional allies.

He has been backed militarily by Russian Federation, and by Shiah fighters from Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah group in Syria's six-year-old conflict.