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Syria Today – New Earthquake Hits Turkey and Syria, Western Countries Boost Aid

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – New Earthquake Hits Turkey and Syria, Western Countries Boost Aid

A shallow magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck the Turkey-Syria border region after it was devastated earlier this month by temblors that killed tens of thousands of people.

Monday’s aftershock in Turkey’s Hatay province was at a depth of 2km (1.2 miles), the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre said.

Syrians fled their homes to the streets in fear of another devastating earthquake.

The quake was felt strongly across the country.

The quake hit the town of Defne at 8:04 pm (17:04 GMT) and was strongly felt in the cities of Antakya and Adana, 200km (300 miles) to the north.

A second magnitude 5.8 centred in Samandag district of Hatay shook the region several minutes later, Turkey’s emergency management agency said.

Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig, reporting from Gaziantep, said there were reports of more structures being destroyed in the region.

“There are buildings that are standing but have been damaged. The fear is if there are more aftershocks like this, it could bring down those buildings, causing further damage to the area or threats to life,” Baig said.

Witnesses said Turkish rescue teams were running around after the latest quakes, checking if people were unharmed.

Muna al-Omar said she was in a tent in a park in central Antakya when Monday’s quakes hit.

“I thought the Earth was going to split open under my feet,” she said, crying as she held her 7-year-old son in her arms. “Is there going to be another aftershock?” she asked.

The figures were already unfathomable: 47,000 people dead in Syria and Turkey, thousands of others missing, and millions homeless. In minutes, two massive earthquakes that rocked Turkey and Syria turned entire cities into rubble mounds. Two weeks later, the scale of the devastation is still being unearthed. The true impact will not be fully understood for decades. 

Millions of Syrians are homeless through a combination of the earthquakes and the long-running civil war, and the humanitarian situation is desperate.

U.S. Assistance

President Biden intends to authorize $50 million in Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Funds (ERMA) in response to the unprecedented and devastating earthquake in Türkiye and Syria.  In addition, the United States is providing $50 million in humanitarian assistance through the State Department and USAID, the State department said in a statement.  

This brings total U.S. humanitarian assistance to support the earthquake response in Türkiye and Syria to $185 million to date.

The State Department and USAID are working through UN agencies and NGOs to provide emergency assistance in Türkiye and Syria, including hot meals, water, medical care and supplies; non-food items such as blankets, clothes, and hygiene kits, temporary shelter, and structural engineers; and essential mental health and psychosocial support – especially to affected children and to other vulnerable individuals.

Additionally, U.S. NGOs are providing valuable assistance, and the U.S. private sector has already donated more than $66 million to support the relief and recovery efforts.

To underscore that U.S. sanctions will not prevent or inhibit providing humanitarian assistance in Syria, the Department of the Treasury issued a broad General License to provide additional authorizations for disaster relief assistance to the Syrian people.

Germany To Raise Quake-Related Aid Fund To Syria To €50 Million

Germany has pledged to increase life-saving aid by about €22 million to northern Syria.

German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, told German mass-market weekly Bild am Sonntag that “Berlin would increase aid by over €22 million,” bringing the total amount to €50 million.

Baerbock noted that her country will provide the needed help to the Syrians, who had perished in more than ten years of war, saying though the Syrian government continues obstructing aid, “we will not leave the people there alone.”

Syrian Bank Offers ‘Shameless’ Scheme To Rebuild Quake-Hit Homes

Amid an overall absence of Syrian government initiatives regarding the fate of people affected by the earthquake and their future, al-Wataniya Microfinance Bank, a pro-government bank based in Damascus, voiced its readiness to provide loans under a project called “Support” to repair damaged buildings in Aleppo, Lattakia and Hama, North Press reported

The loan is set to provide 18 million Syrian pounds (SYP, about $2.600) to be re-paid over the period of 6 years. The bank’s administration revealed that the loan is a contribution to help people affected by the quake repair their damaged shops and buildings.

However, most people did not accept the idea floated. Shaaban Youssef, one of the people affected by the earthquake from the coastal city of Jableh, told North Press that the idea of the loan is an investment by the private sector in people’s agonies. Accepting the loan means more agony and poverty for the earthquake survivors. How could a family that lost everything in the earthquake re-pay 250.000 SYP ($36) a month over the period of six years? How could an employee whose salary does not exceed $20 monthly pay such a loan?   

Hasna al-Muhammad, an affected woman from the city of Lattakia said the idea was “shameless.”  She said it is illogical to burden people to pay for a natural disaster and to repair their damaged houses. “They mean to turn us into beggars to be able to repay the sum of money every month.”

Russia Condemns Israeli Syria Strikes as Tel Aviv Implicitly Admits Them

Russia has joined Syria and Iran in condemning Israel for attacking what has been described as an Iranian facility in the heart of Damascus. 

The Russian Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the Israeli air strike on Damascus and its environs, saying it was a “flagrant violation” of international law.

Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, according to Asharq Al-Awsat, said Russia “urges Israel to stop armed provocations against the Syrian Arab Republic and refrain from steps fraught with dangerous consequences for the entire region.”

According to Russian news agency Sputnik, Zakharova asserted that such vicious practices were completely unacceptable when Russia and other countries sent rescuers, health workers, and humanitarian assistance to Syria in the wake of devastating earthquakes that rocked the Arab country early last week.

Tel Aviv did not issue an official response. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted that the raid was a response to the Iranian drone attack on an oil tanker owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer in the Gulf waters a week ago.

Opinion | Israel Should Not Fall for Syria’s Quiet Outreach: Israeli Analyst

Israeli columnist David Daoud wrote in Haaretz that Israel preferred Assad’s downfall. After all, he was an ally of Iran, protecting its extension – Hezbollah – in Lebanon and allowing Tehran to use Syrian territory to supply the group. Assad’s regime also aided several Palestinian terror groups, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, by hosting them in Syria and acting as a source and conduit of weapons for them. His removal would have therefore benefited Israel by severing a vital link in the chain of Iran’s “Resistance Axis.”

But, when it became clear Assad would survive, aided by Russian, Iranian, and pro-Iranian proxy forces deployed to Syria, Israel adapted to the new reality. Russia led Israel to believe Syria would resume its pragmatism towards them.

In early 2021, rumours emerged of Russian-mediated contacts between Israeli and Syrian military personnel, while mysterious Russian military flights were tracked flying directly from Tel Aviv to Latakia. There were even Israeli reports of a backchannel via Russia in which Israel updated why they chose certain targets of airstrikes in Syria.

The nature of these contacts shifted when the United Arab Emirates, Israel’s Abraham Accords ally, began normalizing ties with Syria in late 2021 to talk – even by Assad – of potential peace and negotiations.

A former U.S. official with ongoing Emirati government connections (quoted here on the condition of anonymity) even claimed that Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed’s visit to Damascus in 2023 included a message from President Mohammad Bin Zayed “to tell Assad he’s willing to be a mediator with Israel. Other Arab leaders gave thumbs up to them, offering to play that role.”

The Assad regime also began attempts to improve its image among Jews and Israelis. Israeli media reported that Syrian officials “closely associated” with Assad sent condolences to the family of Haham Abraham Hamra, the former rabbi of Damascus’ Jewish community, upon his death in Israel in 2021.

Almost concurrently, rumours emerged that the Syrian government had authorized the restoration of two major synagogues, one in Aleppo and the other in Damascus.

The regime, in its version of an apparent charm offensive, may also have enlisted the aid of UAE-based Syrian pro-regime activists to court Jews and Israelis. One activist appears to have spent several years connecting with Jews of Syrian and Lebanese background, as well as Israelis and Israeli government personnel, and calling for Syria to join the Abraham Accords.

Rather than brave defiance of Syria’s anti-normalization laws, this activist’s outreach is suspicious because their ostensible affection for Jews and Israel is laced with promoting pro-Assad propaganda, including sanitizing the regime’s history of antisemitism, defence of Assad’s conduct against his own civilians during the civil war, and describing Iran and Hezbollah’s incursion into Syria as a counterterrorism operation.

The regime’s charm offensive also included inviting Syrian Jews to Brooklyn to visit Syria. The visiting group included a man connected to the UAE-based activist for years, who has since made several media appearances promoting regime propaganda.

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