Alwaght- The magnitude 7.8 earthquake that jolted southern Turkey on Monday also hit parts of neighboring Syria, causing huge human casualties and heavy infrastructure damage. According to official data, so far over 1,400 people were killed and over 2, 400 others were injured. Given the enormity of the earthquake and the damages, hundreds remain under the rubles and deaths are expected to rise.
Although Turkey’s casualties and damages are way more than Syria’s, the flow of international aids to this country has accelerated the relief process. But the situation in Syria is complicated. According to news sources, 62 rescue teams from 50 countries have arrived in Turkey for help, and this volume of aid is strongly needed in Syria, but the US represents a serious obstacle in the way of humanitarian aid flow. The recent earthquake showed that the claim of Western human rights in support of the Syrian people was not but a lie.
The US, which along with Europe and its other allies sought to topple the Syrian government by providing support to the terrorist militias and opposition forces, shows no intention to walk back from its inhumane positions against the war-ravaged nation. In a phone conversation with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the US President Joe Biden announced his country’s readiness to help the earthquake victims, but he did not take any position on the Syrian earthquake and did not even sympathize with the Syrians. In order to cover up the politicization of aids to Syrian victims, US State Department Spokesman Ned Price claimed: “It would be quite ironic — if not even counterproductive — for us to reach out to a government that has brutalised its people over the course of a dozen years now..... Instead, we have humanitarian partners on the ground who can provide the type of assistance in the aftermath of these tragic earthquakes.”
Major part of Syria earthquake damage prompted by sanctions effects
In such a pathetic situation that the earthquake has created in Syrian cities, the effects of the cruel sanctions of the US are obviously observable again, because a large part of the destruction of the buildings was due to the damage caused during the civil war. And if they were rebuilt with foreign investment and support, the earthquake would not have caused so many casualties. The effects of the war have forced civilians to live in damaged or almost destroyed buildings, and the condition of these buildings is so poor that they collapse even with a low-magnitude earthquake, let alone a magnitude 7.8 one. Therefore, part of the plights of the Syrian people after the earthquake is because of the effects of the American and Western sanctions.
The ‘Caesar’ sanctions act, which was approved by the US Congress in December 2019, targets governments, companies, and individuals that directly or indirectly provide financial and military aid to the Syrian government, or invest in Syrian oil, natural gas, military aircraft and construction sectors. In addition to exerting pressure on the key sectors of the Syrian economy, Caesar act also targets the foreign trade and the central bank of this country. Due to the imposition of these watertight sanctions by the US government, no air transport company and international non-governmental organizations can enter Syria and help the earthquake victims as they are afraid of consequences. The US has shown no signs that it allows foreign aids to the crisis-hit country for a certain period of time and until search and rescue operations end and bodies under the ruins are recovered.
Only Iran and Russia have announced their readiness to send humanitarian aid and relief workers to Syria, and teams from the two countries have been deployed to this country to help the earthquake victims. Mostafa bin Lemlih, the coordinator of UN humanitarian activities, said that the damage to the roads, the lack of fuel and the cold winter weather in Syria hinder the response of the organization to the victims of the Syrian earthquake. He said that the UN is trying to mobilize all the aid it can send to the affected areas as soon as possible. The UN further says the number of people in need of humanitarian aid is higher than ever, with 70 percent of Syria’s population in need. According to the UN estimate, the situation in Syria is very complicated and the country needs urgent help.
Due to the depth of the disaster caused by the earthquake, the Syria’s foreign ministry has asked the UN and its agencies and International Committee of the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations for help to deal with the consequences of this devastating earthquake. On Monday, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad held a meeting with representatives of UN agencies and its offices and also aid NGOs, telling them that the cruel US sanctions will broaden the aftermath of the disaster. At the same time, Middle East Council of Churches demanded the immediate lifting of the sanctions on Syria and allowing aid to flow to the country.
The time of earthquake is different and countries need foreign help to address the needs of victims, but Syria is deprived of aids because of the inhumane Western sanctions. In the past 12 years that foreign-backed terrorists have turned many areas of the country into ruins, the Syrian government has been facing a capital and investment crisis to mend the damage caused by the war, and in the current situation, it is far from capable alone to help the earthquake victims. If there were no sanctions, the Syrian government would have been able to earn foreign income through trade and oil sales, like in the pre-crisis time, and be capable of settling the problems caused by the war, but the US not only sanctions it, but also steals its oil and earns millions of dollars that are actually the right of the Syrian government and people and should have been spent in the country.
The American sanctions have also plagued the Syrian healthcare system as many of health and medical infrastructures were destroyed during the crisis and needed to be repaired and rebuilt, but due to lack of capital and foreign support, they went decrepit and now with the earthquake hitting the country, they are even worse and require vast foreign support to settle part of these problems.
Khaled Hboubati, the president of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, said that the country is in severe shortage of equipment to move the rubble. The Syrian health ministry had assessed the damage of war at billions of liras, adding that during the years of fighting, 38 hospitals were fully destroyed. If it was not for the Western sanctions, foreign investors could step in and solve part of the problems, and human disaster at the time of earthquake could be avoided. Now it is difficult to supply aids to the injured, and the death of people because of the shortage in medical service reveals the impacts of sanctions.
A large number of airlines refuse to land in Syrian airports due to concerns about US and European sanctions, and several countries also asked Syrian airlines to transport aid by civilian planes, and a part of this aid is supposed to go to Damascus, Aleppo, and Latakia.
Now, the Red Cross and air transportation companies are desperately needed in Syria, because the longer rescue operations, the larger number of victims. During the civil war, the US showed that life of Syrians does not matter to it and it supported terrorist groups at its full tilt in pursuit of its agenda. The conflict that the West triggered and fueled has so far killed and injured half a million, and now that the country is hit by a natural disaster, even if thousands more Syrians die, the White House officials do not care.
Israeli crimes an obstruction to relief work
In addition to the American sanctions, the Israeli crimes in Syria have been influential in widening the aspects of the humanitarian Catastrophe. Over the past years, Israeli regime launched tens of airstrikes on the Syrian airports—including Damascus International Airport, T4 Airport in Homs, Aleppo Airport, and Latakia Airport— in support of terrorist groups fighting the Syrian government, with part of these airports remaining destructed to date and even they were shut down for some days after the strikes. The government has no adequate finances to rebuild them and this has been seriously challenging air aids and international trade with the country. If these airports were fully repaired and fights had no problems, air aids could be delivered faster to avoid more casualties. But constant Israeli air raids have caused many problems and actually Tel Aviv, beside Washington, is to blame for more Syrian deaths by earthquake.
Hostile Arab monarchies on reconciliation path
Though Arab countries severed ties with Syria in line with the American policies, after the disastrous earthquake, some Arab leaders seem to have separated politics from humanitarian issues and are seeking to help the Syrians. Secretary General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit expressed his condolences on the death of hundreds of victims in the devastating earthquake in Syria and asked the international community to provide the necessary assistance to the victims of this humanitarian disaster. Mohammed bin Zayed, the ruler of the UAE, announced in a phone conversation with the president of Syria Bashar al-Assad that he is ready to help the earthquake victims. Sultan of Oman Haitham bin Tarik expressed his condolences to al-Assad for the disaster.
Iraq, which has friendly relations with the Syrian government, sent sixty tons of food and medicine to help the victims, and the Red Crescent of this country announced that this is the first stage of aid and more will be sent soon.
Amid Arab messages of solidarity with the Syrian government, a rare development was the phone conversation of the Bahraini king with al-Assad. King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa expressed his condolences to the Syrian leader and readiness to support the Syrian government’s efforts to weather the consequences of the disaster. Bahrain cut off relations with Syria since 2011 and this is the first time its ruler is talking to the Syrian president and his conversation can stand as a prelude to future normalization. Over the past three years, some Arab countries like the UAE resumed ties to Syria and some others have voiced readiness to follow on Abu Dhabi’s footsteps. Therefore, perhaps this disaster can untie the Gordian knot of relations between Damascus and Arab sheikhdoms and they re-embrace Syria after years of tensions and hostility.