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UAE, Saudi Arabia pledge quake relief to Syria, Turkey

In March last year, Assad made a visit to the UAE -- his first to an Arab state in more than a decade of brutal civil war
— Dubai (AFP)

The United Arab Emirates on Tuesday pledged $100 million to Syria and Turkey, one of the largest sums yet following a massive earthquake that has killed thousands.

Fellow Gulf country Saudi Arabia, which severed diplomatic ties with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime in 2012, also said it would provide assistance.

The oil-rich UAE -- which had already pledged some $13.6 million to Syria -- is spearheading regional relief efforts, having dispatched planes to both countries with relief items and rescue teams following the 7.8-magnitude quake that struck early Monday.

On Tuesday, Emirati President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan "ordered the provision of $100 million for the relief of those affected", the official WAM news agency said.

The sum would be equally split between Syria and Turkey, with each getting $50 million, according to the news agency.

It was not immediately clear if the funds for Syria included the $13.6 million previously announced.

Major General Saleh al-Ameri, commander of joint operations at the UAE's defence ministry, said Tuesday that three military planes had been dispatched to Turkey, carrying search and rescue teams who have since commenced operations.

A total of seven flights are planned to the quake-hit countries, including two to the Syrian capital Damascus, he told local media.

Syria's official SANA news agency said Tuesday that an Emirati plane carrying 10 tonnes of food supplies had arrived at the Damascus international airport.

- Saudi help -

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday ordered the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre "to provide health, shelter, food and logistical assistance" to Syria and Turkey, the official SPA news agency said.

It will also launch a public donation campaign for quake victims in both countries, SPA added.

The oil-rich Gulf kingdom has backed groups opposed to Assad during the war, and some of Syria's exiled opposition figures are based in Riyadh.

But in recent years, Saudi Arabia has softened its stance against Assad and senior Syrian officials have said that efforts were underway to improve ties.

Saudi Arabia is the globe's biggest crude exporter and the Arab world's strongest economy.

The aid announcement also follows a recent rapprochement with Turkey and after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited Ankara in June last year.

Ties between the two countries had been strained following the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom's Istanbul consulate.

The UAE, meanwhile, reopened its embassy in the Syrian capital in December 2018, suggesting an effort to bring Assad's regime back into the Arab fold after years of boycott.

In March last year, Assad made a visit to the UAE -- his first to an Arab state in more than a decade of brutal civil war.

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