A major Syrian rebel group says many of its members were killed in a blast that hit an evacuation gathering point of civilians from majority Shia Muslim villages held by the regime, saying it will cooperate with an international probe to determine the culprits as the death toll climbed to over a hundred.
Ahrar al-Sham group, the main negotiator with the government and its allies of the widely criticised evacuation deal that transferred thousands of civilians from regime and opposition besieged areas, said in a statement on Saturday it condemns the “cowardly” attack.
Ahrar al-Sham said the attack only serves to defame the rebels and serve to deflect from the government’s “crimes” against opposition-held areas, the latest being the chemical attack where over 80 people were killed.
The group says it is starting a probe into the cause of the attack, and said it is ready to cooperate with an international investigation to determine who carried it out.
The government blamed Saturday's attack on "terrorists" -- its catch-all term for opposition groups.
Ahrar al-Sham force denied involvement, with a senior official tweeting: "Our role was to secure civilians not kill them."
Death toll climbs
The death toll in the suicide car bomb attack on the buses carrying Syrians evacuated from the two besieged government-held towns has risen to at least 112, a monitoring group said on Sunday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 98 evacuees from the northern towns of Fuaa and Kafraya were killed when an explosives-laden vehicle hit their buses at a transit point west of Aleppo on Saturday.
It said the remainder of the dead were aid workers and rebels tasked with guarding the buses.
It warned the death toll may rise further as "hundreds" more were wounded in the blast.
Dozens of buses carrying several thousand refugees had been stuck by the roadside in the rebel-held town of Rashidin after leaving Fuaa and Kafraya on Friday under a deal reached between the government and opposition groups.
Fuaa and Kafraya have been under rebel siege for more than two years. As part of the deal, several hundred people including armed rebels will be transported out of Madaya and Zabadani, towns near Damascus, which are surrounded by pro-government militias including Lebanese Hizballah.
The blast puts the four-town evacuation deal in doubt.
The Observatory said after the bombing that the evacuation process had resumed, but it was not immediately clear on Sunday if convoys had restarted their journeys.
Syria's six-year civil war has seen several similar deals, which the government of President al-Bashar Assad says are the best way to end the violence. Rebels say they are being forced to relocate through bombardment and siege.
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