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Syrian deal to evacuate tens of thousands of people begins

An explosion has hit a bus convoy carrying evacuees near the Syrian city of Aleppo, killing a number of people.

Dozens of buses carrying people from pro-government areas Foua and Kfraya, and from opposition towns Madaya and Zabadani, were parked at separate parts of the edge of Aleppo city, separated by walls, Syria TV showed.

According to reports, some 20 areas across the war-torn country remain under siege by Assad regime forces.

Madaya and Zabadani are the latest in a constellation of towns once held by the opposition around Damascus to submit to government rule. The government blamed the rebels for the attack.

The buses are now heading towards opposition-held Idlib, where evacuees will be accommodated in camps set up in the province's northern countryside. A United Nations inquiry said the evacuation of east Aleppo amounted to a war crime because it was coerced through the joint Russian and Syrian government campaign against the city's civilian infrastructure.

Pro-government media in Damascus said the blast was caused by a suicide attacker detonating a auto bomb.

Footage from the scene showed bodies, including those of fighters, lying alongside buses, some of which were charred and others gutted from the blast.

On Friday, buses set out from the regime-besieged Madaya and Zabadani districts carrying some 2,350 passengers, including nearly 1,000 opposition fighters.

The residents, alongside hundreds of pro-government fighters, had left the two rebel-besieged villages in northwest Idlib province under a deal where in exchange, hundreds of Sunni insurgents and their families moved out of a government-besieged area near Damascus.

BEIRUT: Civilians and fighters began evacuating four towns besieged by rebels and government forces Friday, an AFP correspondent and a local source said.

The agreement had stalled, leaving thousands of people from both government-besieged and rebel-besieged areas stranded at two transit points on the city's outskirts, before the explosion occurred.

"The people are restless and the situation is disastrous", said Ahmed Afandar, a resident evacuated from his hometown near Madaya.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the problem was that rebels from Zabadani, one of the towns included in the deal, had not yet been granted safe passage out.

The exact reasons for the delay in completing the evacuation deal were also unclear.

State television said the auto bombing had been carried out by "terrorist groups", a term the regime applies to all armed opposition groups.

"I have conviction that we will be back", Hossam, the man from Madaya, said in the video.

The evacuation of the four towns had been due to start on April 4, but implementation of the deal brokered by rebel supporter Qatar and regime ally Iran late last month, was repeatedly delayed.