World

DAMASCUS – A powerful bomb on Saturday hit buses carrying hundreds of people fleeing besieged Syrian towns, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, resulting in deaths of at least 112 people.

Children were also among the dead, according to several reports, while more than 100 people were reported to be injured.

The bomb went off at Rashidin, west of government-held Aleppo, at about 15:30 local time (12:30 GMT) at the checkpoint where the handover of evacuees was due to take place.

The UK-based group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 98 evacuees were killed, along with aid workers and rebel soldiers.

The explosion shattered coaches and set cars on fire, leaving a trail of bodies, as the convoy waited in rebel territory near Aleppo, the BBC reported.

In his Easter Sunday address, Pope Francis called the bombing an “ignoble attack on fleeing refugees.”

“May (God) in a particular way sustain the efforts of those who are actively working to bring healing and comfort to the civilian population of Syria, the beloved and martyred Syria, who are victims of a war that does not cease to sow horror and death,” he said.

Government evacuees had been waiting under rebel guard when the bomb went off. There were fears of revenge attacks on evacuees from rebel-held towns, being moved under a deal. But the exchange later resumed, with coaches reaching safety on both sides.

Evacuations were due to continue on Sunday.

Foah and Kefraya, most of whose residents are Shia Muslims, have been encircled by rebels and al Qaeda-linked jihadists since March 2015.

Madaya and Zabadani, which are predominantly Sunni Muslim, have been besieged since June 2015 by the Syrian army and fighters from Lebanon’s Shia Muslim Hezbollah movement.

A previous attempt at mutual evacuations failed in December when rebels burnt coaches due to be sent to the towns.