Assad blames former al-Qaeda affiliate for refugee convoy bombing


Syrian leader says Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly the Nusra Front, was behind attack on Shia convoy that killed 126, including scores of children

White Helmets volunteers deal with the aftermath of the bombing in Rashidin (White Helmets)
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Last update: 
Friday 21 April 2017 13:32 UTC

Bashar al-Assad on Friday blamed the group formerly known as the Nusra Front for the bombing of a convoy of evacuees from two Shia villages on Saturday that killed 126.

The Syrian president's comments were carried by the Russian RIA Novosti news agency, who quoted him as saying: "It was the Nusra Front, they haven't hidden it from the very start, and I think that everyone agrees that it was Nusra."

It was Nusra... I think that everyone agrees that it was Nusra

- Bashar al-Assad

The blast on Sunday hit the Rashidin area on Aleppo's outskirts, where dozens of buses carrying mostly Shia residents of the Idlib towns of Fua and Kafraya were being evacuated. No group has claimed the bombing. 

The towns have been under siege by militants from groups including Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which was formerly known as Nusra and linked to al-Qaeda.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 126 people have been killed, including 68 children.

Russia's foreign ministry soon afterwards pointed the finger at Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and its sometimes ally Ahrar al-Sham, saying that convoys they were responsible for "came under mortar fire at the initial stage and then was stopped literally a few kilometres from government forces’ checkpoint. That was when the tragedy occurred."

The scene of the blast outside Syria's Aleppo (AFP)

The towns were being evacuated under a deal agreed between the Syrian government and rebel groups. 

Residents of the majority Sunni towns of Madaya and Zabadani, near Damascus, were to be given safe passage to rebel territory in return for the evacuation of Shia residents of Fua and Kafraya, in rebel-held Idlib.

Evacuations resumed on Friday after a 48-hour hiatus.

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Syrian town evacuations resume after 48-hour suspension

More than 35 busloads of civilians and pro-government fighters from Fua and Kefraya arrived in Aleppo city, which is under government control, the Observatory war monitor said.

Nusra was al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria until it broke allegiance last year in a rebranding exercise.

It joined other groups in a new alliance called Tahrir al-Sham in January.

Western nations, Syria and its main allies Russia and Iran continue to designate it as a terrorist organisation.