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Fri 3 Aug 2012 10:07 AM

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Saudi aid convoy leaves Riyadh for Syrian camps

Trucks head for refugee camps after appeal in Gulf kingdom has so far raised $125m

Saudi aid convoy leaves Riyadh for Syrian camps
Syrian refugees walk on June 20, 2012 at the Kilis refugee camp near the Syrian border. (AFP/Getty Images)

A convoy of trucks left Riyadh for Syrian refugee camps in Jordan on Thursday evening carrying the first batch of aid from a 10-day national appeal that has so far raised $125m.

Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter and birthplace of Islam, has led Arab diplomatic efforts to isolate the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over his suppression of a 16-month-old rebellion against his rule.

The predominantly Sunni Muslim kingdom has accused Assad of targeting civilians, but is also mindful that his government is the closest Middle East ally of Saudi Arabia's big regional rival, Shi'ite Iran.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal previously has backed the idea of arming rebel forces and last week Reuters reported that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey had established a base in southern Turkey to aid Syria's opposition.

In a statement on Saturday Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry did not directly deny the report, but said its position was to extend to the Syrian people "financial and humanitarian assistance".

It also called for Syrians to be enabled "to protect themselves" if the international community proved unable to protect them.

Syria and Iran have accused Saudi Arabia of fuelling the violence in the country.

The Saudi Press Agency reported late on Wednesday that the campaign, which was launched by King Abdullah with a $5.3m donation last Monday, had raised SR468m ($125m).

The 43 aid trucks assembled in a shopping mall car park in northern Riyadh before the sunset prayer, loaded with food, medicine and clothing under orange tarpaulins.

The drivers, mostly Pakistanis, wore white T-shirts bearing the campaign logo, along with matching baseball caps.

To one side a tent had been erected with a buffet inside for the sunset breaking of the Ramadan fast, after which they would set off on the roughly six-day journey to the camps along Jordan's border with Syria.

Campaign director, Mubarak Said al-Baker, said dozens of volunteers were travelling with the trucks to assist in the distribution of the aid.

The trucks were marked with the slogan "Saudi kingdom of humanity" in English and Arabic along the sides, while the cabs were decorated in more ornamental style with flags, stickers, plastic flowers and the Muslim invocation ma sha'allah, or "God has willed it".

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