Syria's Foreign Ministry says the international community needs to unify its efforts to fight terrorism, and to “stop attempts of misleading and ignoring” the priority of that fight in order to stabilize the country that has been at war for more than six years.
The ministry's comments came in letters Sunday to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the U.N. Security Council. The letters focused on Saturday's bombing of a bus convoy in Rashideen carrying people from pro-government areas involved in an evacuation deal from besieged towns.
Syria's conflict involves many groups, including those with links to terrorism such as al-Qaida. But the Syrian government has also consistently referred to fighters who oppose President Bashar al-Assad as “terrorists.” Sunday's letters further repeated Syrian accusations that countries such as the United States and Turkey, which support rebel groups, are supporting “terrorist organizations.”
At least 126 people are killed
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack killed at least 126 people and wounded many more. It is not clear who was responsible for the bombing, but Sunni jihadist groups, including the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaida, operate in the area and routinely attack Shi'ites, whom they consider apostates.
In exchange for people leaving the pro-government villages of Foua and Kefraya, which have been besieged by rebels, others are been evacuated from the opposition-held towns of Zabadani and Madaya where they have been under siege by pro-government forces.
A spokesman for Guterres has condemned the attack in Rashideen, and called on all parties involved in the evacuation agreement to ensure the safety of those waiting to be transported.
U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien also urged Syria's warring parties to “protect civilians and distinguish between military and civilian targets.”
“While the United Nations was not involved in this agreement or evacuation process, we are ready to scale up our support to evacuees,” O'Brien said in a statement.
U.S. embassy responds
O'Brien said humanitarian organizations, including the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and U.N. partners, are providing assistance to the injured, including transfer to hospitals.
The U.S. embassy in Syria tweeted, “The United States strongly condemns today's barbaric attacks against innocent civilians, including women & children, in northern Syria.”
A deal between the Damascus government and opposition fighters guaranteeing the safety of the villagers stalled Friday, stranding thousands of evacuees for hours before the attack unfolded on the outskirts of Aleppo.
Fighters, civilians on buses
Video on state television later showed charred bodies and mangled buses, which had been carrying pro-government Shi'ite fighters and civilians from the besieged villages toward the government-controlled city. Other footage showed ambulances ferrying the wounded to area hospitals.
Far to the south, the evacuation deal — brokered by Iran and Qatar — simultaneously granted hundreds of Sunni insurgents and their families near Damascus safe passage to Idlib province near the Turkish border.
By late Saturday, monitors from the Syrian Observatory said the convoy near Aleppo was again under way, while official Syrian media said the first buses carrying Shi'ite evacuees had reached government safety in Aleppo.