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Iran says to send humanitarian aid to Syria's Palestinians

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran plans to send humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Syria living in an area recently seized by Syrian rebels, Iran's ambassador to Syria was quoted as saying on Saturday.

Iran has been a staunch supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of Syria who has been battling to put down a 21-month uprising against his rule, and Tehran has also long cast itself as a champion of the Palestinian people.

The aid would be dispatched to Yarmouk, a Palestinian district near the center of Damascus, which has become one of the latest battlefields for Syrian rebels and a target for Assad's artillery.

Earlier this week, insurgents took control of the Yarmouk camp, a densely populated urban district home to thousands of impoverished Palestinian refugees and Syrians.

Rebels said on Thursday they had negotiated to put the camp back into the hands of anti-Assad Palestinian fighters. There are some 500,000 Palestinian refugees and their descendants living in Syria, and they have been divided by the uprising.

Iran will send an initial shipment of blankets, food, and medicine in the coming days via Damascus airport to be delivered to Yarmouk officials for distribution among Palestinians, Iran's ambassador to Syria Mohammad Reza Sheibani told the Mehr news agency on Saturday.

Iran's Foreign Ministry and the Red Crescent organization had taken the decision to send the aid, Sheibani said. He did not say specifically when the aid would be sent.

Western countries have accused Iran of supplying weapons to Syrian government forces to help put down the uprising, though Iran has denied it is helping Assad militarily.

Both Assad's government and the mainly Sunni Muslim Syrian rebels have enlisted and armed divided Palestinian factions as the uprising has evolved into a civil war.

Thousands of displaced Yarmouk residents have fled the violence for the Lebanese border or set up Palestinian communities elsewhere in Damascus.

(Reporting By Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Andrew Osborn)