RAMALLAH (Reuters) - An aid convoy left the West Bank city of 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,” Palestinian 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 U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which has continued to service the camps despite the violence.
Syria is home to nearly 500,000 U.N.-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 al-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.
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.
Writing by Jihan Abdalla; Editing by Jon Hemming