March 4. 2024. 6:07

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Turkey-Syria earthquake: Violence hampers rescue efforts as death toll passes 28,000

Rescuers in southern Turkey have warned that efforts to find survivors after the earthquake have been hampered by outbreaks of violence, as the death toll in Syria and Turkey passed 28,000.

German rescuers and the Austrian army paused search operations on Saturday, citing fighting between unidentified groups.

An Austrian army spokesperson said altercations between groups in the Hatay province resulted in dozens of personnel from the Austrian Forces Disaster Relief Unit seeking shelter in a base camp with other international organisations, the BBC reported.

Lt Col Pierre Kugelweis said in a statement: “There is increasing aggression between factions in Turkey. The chances of saving a life bears no reasonable relation to the safety risk.”

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Austria resumed its rescue operation after the Turkish army stepped in to offer protection, the country’s Ministry of Defence said.

The German branch of the search and rescue group Isar and Germany’s Federal Agency for Technical Relief (TSW) also suspended operations, citing security concerns.

Isar spokesperson Stefan Heine said: “There are more and more reports of clashes between different factions, shots have also been fired.”

Steven Bayer, operations manager of Isar, said he expected security to worsen as food and water supplies become more scarce.

He added: “We are watching the security situation very closely as it develops.”

German rescue teams said they would resume work as soon as Turkish authorities deem the situation safe, Reuters reported.

[ Analysis: Regional politics and corrupt governments threaten to make earthquake aftermath far worse ]

[ Shock and rage at lack of state help as Turkey deals with earthquake aftermath ]

[ ‘No More Antakya’: City and a civilisation wiped out after earthquake, say Turks ]

The combined death toll in Turkey and Syria from the earthquake has surpassed 28,000. Fuat Oktay, the Turkish vice-president, announced on Saturday that the death toll in Turkey had risen to 24,617.

Meanwhile, state media reported on Saturday that 48 people had been arrested for looting, according to Agence France-Presse, with several guns seized along with cash, jewellery and bank cards.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has yet to comment on the reported unrest in Hatay, but has reiterated that the government would take action against those involved in crimes in the region.

Mr Erdoğan said: “We’ve declared a state of emergency [on Tuesday]. It means that, from now on, the people who are involved in looting or kidnapping should know that the state’s firm hand is on their backs.”

After a decree on Saturday, suspects accused of looting can now be held for seven days instead of four, under the state of emergency that came into force this week for three months.

Mehmet Bok (26), searching for a work colleague in a collapsed building in Antakya, told Reuters: “People were smashing the windows and fences of shops and cars.”

Aylin Kabasakal, a resident in Hatay, told AFP: “We’re guarding our homes, our cars. The looters are looting our homes. There’s nothing left to say, unfortunately. We’re destroyed, we’re shaken. What we have gone through is a nightmare.

“The authorities must protect our homes.” – The Guardian