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Thousands of evacuated Syrians stuck as transfer stalls

The nearby town of Zabadani, which had also been under government siege, is "to be depopulated", the Associated Press writes. The group said the attack only serves to deflect the attention from government "crimes" and said it was ready to cooperate with an worldwide probe to determine who did it. The group said it was investigating to find out who was responsible. After the blast, evacuees from opposition areas pleaded for protection fearing revenge attacks.

Syrian state media said at least 39 were killed.

A senior rebel leader said 20 fighters who guarded the buses were killed as well as dozens of passengers.

Amer Burhan, the director of Zabadani's field hospital, said he expects the gunmen among the evacuees to resume fighting government forces in northern Syria.

Friday's evacuations were notable because they were reciprocal - seldom during the war has there been an organized population swap between rebels and the government.

Mr Assad has spoken out for the first time since a chemical attack in Idlib province on 4 April widely blamed on his forces.

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A Lebanese TV channel close to the Syrian government is airing footage showing new buses arriving at an evacuation point that was site of a major explosion that killed dozens. Residents of al-Foua and Kefraya, the Shi'ite villages, were waiting in the Rashidin area. The area controlled by rebels was hit by a auto bomb as buses carrying thousands of evacuees from pro-government areas were stuck after a population transfer deal stalled.

They are also causing demographic changes because those who are displaced are usually Sunni Muslims, like most of the opposition.

A picture taken on April 15, 2017, shows smoke billowing following a suicide auto bombing in Rashidin, west of Aleppo, that targeted buses carrying Syrians evacuated from two besieged government-held towns of Fuaa and Kafraya.

A military media unit said a suicide attacker had detonated a auto bomb near the convoy.

Video shown on Syrian state-run television showed heavily damaged and burned buses parked on the side of a road. Some buses were charred and other gutted from the explosion as belongings hanged out of windows.

About 5,000 people were being transported from the Shia villages, and more than 2,000 from Madaya.

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The blast happened after thousands of Syrians being evacuated from their besieged towns had spent the night on buses at an exchange point.

He said: "The people are restless". A photo carried by al-Ikhbariya state TV showed a number of bodies strewn on the floor with a huge plume of black smoke rising in the background.

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. The evacuation of Fua and Kefraya residents is a part of a deal between the Syrian government and militants.

As diplomacy in Moscow focused on the USA airstrikes targeting the country, over 2,350 people were bussed out of the twin towns of Madaya and Zabadani near Damascus.

"The situation is disastrous", said Ahmed Afandar, a resident evacuated from the opposition area near Madaya. The Observatory said the delay was caused by the fact that opposition forces from Zabadani, another town near Damascus included in the deal, had not yet been granted safe passage out.

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EASTER SUNDAY: Rain showers and thunderstorms will be possible for Easter Sunday , mainly for the afternoon and evening hours. Overview: Mostly sunny skies and warm temperatures return for Thursday and Friday , with high temperatures around 80 degrees.



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