Thousands of evacuated Syrians stuck as transfer stalls

Thousands of Syrians evacuated from their besieged towns under a widely criticised rebel-regime deal have spent the night on buses at an exchange point as a much criticised population transfer deal stalls, activists and residents said Saturday.

Today, those from Madaya sat outside rows of coaches in a bus garage in government-held Aleppo, waiting to move onto Idlib, pictures sent by a pro-opposition activist showed.

"I just couldn't bear it".

Raqa was home to around 240,000 residents before 2011 and more than 80,000 people have fled to the city from other parts of the country since the start of Syria's civil war.

Critics say deals are permanently changing the ethnic and religious map, but in an exclusive interview with AFP this week President Bashar al-Assad insisted the evacuations were only temporary and people would return once the "terrorists" had been defeated.

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

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 suicide attacker had detonated a auto bomb near the convoy which was meant to carry people to safety, according to military media unit run by Damascus ally Hezbollah.

"They of course wanted to beat the Sunni rebels into submission", said Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

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"Madaya cried today - the ones who stayed and the ones who left".

The rebels and residents of Madaya near Damascus were waiting at the government-held Ramousah bus garage, a few miles away. Residents from the two villages had been evacuated Friday, along with more than 2,000 from Madaya, an opposition-held town outside of Damascus besieged by government forces.

The evacuees from Madaya headed to rebel-held Idlib, west of Aleppo.

But access has been limited, with food and medical shortages causing malnutrition, illness and even death among besieged residents.

British-based monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights counted 24 dead and dozens more wounded. Early reports indicate that the groups were unhappy because certain factions were not included in the deal brokered by Iran and Qatar.

While talks often begin with extensive demands from the rebel side, these have been whittled down by repeated government airstrikes, as well as pressure from civilians who blame the rebels in part for prolonging their suffering.

At least 43 people were killed Saturday in a suicide vehicle bomb attack on buses carrying Syrians evacuated from two besieged regime-held towns, a monitor said in an updated toll.

"But of course they're going to go back to their cities after the liberation".

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