Syrian TV says dozens killed in blast near evacuation buses

A war monitor puts the death toll at 24 in the area controlled by opposition fighters.

A suicide auto bomb attack on buses carrying Syrians evacuated from two besieged government-held towns killed 24 people on Saturday, as US-backed fighters advanced in their push towards the Islamic State group's Raqa stronghold.

More than 7,000 people who had been under crippling siege for more than two years left four Syrian towns on Friday under a delayed evacuation deal brokered by Iran and Qatar. They were being evacuated as part of a population transfer that had stalled as government representatives bickered with rebels.

Syrian state TV blamed the rebels for obstructing the deal, causing thousands of evacuees to be stuck in bus depots overnight.

Also Saturday, an Iraqi military statement said the Syrian air force has carried out a series of airstrikes against Islamic State group militants inside Syria, with one killing a leading member of the group in Raqqa, the IS de facto capital.

The much criticized deal is to transfer thousands from besieged pro-government and anti-government areas.

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The state TV channel said the explosion was caused by a auto bomb and footage showed horrific images of bodies strewn on the ground and near buses.

Complex transfer is part of a deal that will see more than 10,000 people evacuated and hundreds of prisoners exchanged.

Syria's war has left more than 320,000 people dead since erupting in 2011, with more than half the population forced from their homes and hundreds of thousands enduring siege-like conditions.

The explosion hit an area where buses carrying almost 5000 people from Foua and Kfraya, villages in northern Syria that have been besieged by rebels.

State TV and an opposition monitoring group say the vehicle bomb left an undetermined number of people killed.

The rebels and residents of Madaya near Damascus were waiting at the government-held Ramousah bus garage, a few miles away.

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Some 30,000 besieged people would be taken out but, according to AFP news agency, up to 5,000 government evacuees and 2,200 from rebel towns are now stranded.

A Facebook page belonging to the pro-government Foua and Kfraya villages said all those in three buses were killed or are still missing while a rebel official said at least 30 opposition fighters who were guarding the evacuees were killed in the blast.

Ahmed Afandar, a resident evacuated from his hometown near Madaya, says dozens of buses carrying children, women and men are not allowed to proceed toward rebel-held Idlib as planned.

He said it is not clear what hinders the completion of the evacuation.

"It is a very bad feeling when you see those who besieged you and killed you with hunger and bombardment right in front of you", Maleh said.

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