March 4. 2024. 5:29

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US and EU offer disaster aid with caveats in Syria’s government-controlled areas

While Western countries have dispatched rescue workers and supplies to Turkey and promised aid to Syria’s rebel-controlled Idlib province, aid for Syrian earthquake victims who live in government-controlled areas has been limited.


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Along with Turkey and agencies working in Idlib, Syria has appealed to “UN members, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other humanitarian groups [to support] efforts to face the devastating earthquake,” the foreign ministry has said.

After meeting UN representatives and aid groups, foreign minister Faisal Mekdad said the government was ready “to provide all the required facilities to international organisations so they can give Syrians humanitarian aid”.

Nato and its member states acted quickly by sending specialised teams and supplies to Turkey, which is a member of the alliance.

EU high representative for foreign affairs Josep Borrell and EU commissioner for crisis management Janez Lenarcic said the bloc was ready to support Syria. However, EU humanitarian aid spokesman Balazs Ujvari said the bloc would deliver aid if Syria followed Turkey’s example by requesting help through the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism, which aims to pool the expertise of emergency providers and avoid duplication of relief work.

US state department spokesman Ned Price said the US would deliver aid to Syria through non-governmental agencies but would not engage the government of president Bashar al-Assad, whom Washington blames for a decade of civil war. US president Joe Biden has indicated US aid would go to “US-supported groups,” a reference to those operating outside government control.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin has announced €2 million in emergency assistance to Turkey and Syrian Idlib, which is governed by al-Qaeda offshoot Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.

While Western governments have offered condolences to Syria, Germany and Spain have reportedly proposed assistance.

Russian and Iranian relief teams have been active on the ground and more help is expected. Algiers has sent an 86-member Algerian civil protection team to Aleppo along with 115 tons of food, tents, and medical supplies.

Jordan has dispatched emergency aid while Iraq has sent supplies by air.

Lebanon has opened its ports and airports to transfer duty free aid to Syria and 15 Lebanese army engineers have been deployed for rescue missions.

India has also pledged to expedite humanitarian aid to Syria, while Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, prime minister of the United Arab Emitates, has directed humanitarian aid worth $13.6 million, according to the official news agency, WAM.

China has donated $200,000 to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, (Sarc), which is composed of volunteers who are trained in rescuing people trapped in collapsed buildings. Sarc has urged lifting sanctions to support rescue efforts.

While government-controlled areas are struggling to receive international help, the arrival of aid to Idlib, the country’s last rebel-held enclave, is also being hampered.

“The infrastructure is damaged, the roads that we used to use for humanitarian work are damaged, we have to be creative in how to get to the people ... but we are working hard,” UN resident co-ordinator, El-Mostafa Benlamlih, told the Reuters.

The government in Damascus also only allows aid to enter the region through one border crossing.

Syria has been resistant to allowing aid into the region serving more than four million people because it regards the aid as undermining Syrian sovereignty and reducing its chances of winning back control of the region.

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake levelled scores of buildings in Latakia, Homs and Hama provinces, killing more than 800 and injuring 1,450 people, Syria’s health ministry reported yesterday.

Al-Jazeera put total Syrian fatalities, including Idlib, at 1,602. Aid is urgently needed as the weather is bitterly cold and wet in Syria. – Additional reporting: Guardian