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Palestinians send aid to refugee camps in Syria

Aug. 5, 2012 3:52 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 6, 2012 1:22 P.M.)
By: Jihan Abdalla
RAMALLAH (Reuters) -- An aid convoy left Ramallah on Sunday carrying food and medicine in a symbol of support for Palestinian refugees caught up in the crisis in Syria.

"Today the first convoy will leave from here, from the West Bank, from Palestinian soil towards Syria," President Mahmoud Abbas said at a press event marking the event.

An official donations drive netted around $650,000 worth of food and medical aid from Palestinian companies, businessmen, and individuals during the charitable month of Ramadan.

A one percent cut of salaries from the Palestinian Authority's cash-strapped public sector went toward the convoy.

Sixteen trucks loaded with flour, rice, sugar, lentils, chickpeas, pasta and medicine drove through Abbas's presidential compound before leaving for Jordan bound for Damascus via the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, which has continued to service the camps despite the violence.

Syria is home to nearly 500,000 UN-registered Palestinians, and their descendants, who were expelled or fled from their homes during the 1948 war of Israel's creation. Palestinians say an additional 120,000 Palestinians reside in Syrian cities.

At least 20 Palestinians were killed and 65 wounded on Thursday when three mortar rounds exploded in a busy street in the Yarmouk camp in Damascus, home to about 100,000.

Palestinians have largely stayed out of the war in Syria between President Bashar Assad's security forces and rebels trying to topple the government. Leaders have sought to avoid commenting on the situation and embroiling their exiles.

"We are not a part of this conflict," said Mohammad Shtayyeh, head of the aid campaign.

On Saturday, the PA ambassador to Damascus Mahmoud al-Khalidi told Ma’an: "We still maintain that Palestinian refugee camps remain neutral toward the Syrian conflict."

After meeting with all 15 Palestinian political factions in Syria, they agreed not to take sides in the conflict, he added.

Around 400 Palestinians have been killed in Syria so far, mostly by snipers, Shtayyeh said. Anti-Assad activists and sympathetic Western and Arab governments say about 20,000 people have been killed since the revolt began 18 months ago.

Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank staged several rallies in past months against Assad's regime, and some mosque preachers have prayed for his removal in Friday sermons.

Ma'an staff in Bethlehem contributed to this report
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