The odd rescue story was still emerging Tuesday, eight days after the killer quakes struck. An 18-year-old man was pulled from the twisted steel and concrete of his razed building in southern Turkey hours after two brothers were saved from their toppled apartment building. At least two other people were reportedly rescued in southern Turkey on Tuesday.
Increasingly, however, in both Turkey and Syria, efforts were turning from rescue to recovery.
The Old City of Hatay, in southern Turkey, was once a thriving ancient quarter. It has been left unrecognizable and unlivable.
The overall death toll pinned on the earthquakes — a massive 7.8-magnitude temblor that struck early on the morning of February 6 and a second, 7.5 quake about nine hours later — had climbed to more than 37,300 people Tuesday, with 6000 dead in Syria.
On Tuesday, residents of Hatay and other decimated towns and villages were focused on burying their loved ones and neighbours who didn’t survive. Many were being placed in mass graves, hastily dug along the sides of highways or wherever else ground could be cleared.
First UN aid enters northwest Syria from newly-opened crossing
A first convoy of UN aid entered rebel-held northwest Syria from Turkey via the newly-opened Bab al-Salameh crossing on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the UN’s humanitarian affairs office said, The New Arab reported.
The aid was being delivered by the International Organization for Migration.
They did not provide details of its size or what kind of aid it was carrying for areas struck by last week’s deadly earthquake.
The UN said late Monday night that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – isolated and subject to Western sanctions – had approved the opening of two new border crossings between Turkey and Syria “for an initial period of three months to allow for the timely delivery of humanitarian aid.”
He has called for international assistance to help rebuild infrastructure in the war-torn country, where the UN estimates more than five million have been left homeless.
On the government side
President Assad meets ICRC President
President Bashar al-Assad received on Tuesday Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
During the meeting, Egger affirmed that the ICRC is seeking to provide the Syrian people with basic needs and to provide everything necessary to help them overcome the difficult situation they were going through in the aftermath of the earthquake.
ICRC president indicated that the Organization is working to mobilize efforts to expand the scope of its humanitarian operations all over the Syrian territory, and it appreciates the cooperation made by the Syrian government and SARC in this regard.
President al-Assad renewed the Syrian government’s keenness to deliver aid to all areas across Syria to provide relief to the affected.
Japanese Embassy: Japan to dispatch emergency relief to Syria
The Japanese government announced Tuesday providing emergency relief supplies to those affected by the devastating earthquake that struck Syria on February 6.
“Japan has decided to provide emergency assistance to Syria through the International Cooperation Agency, notably tents, sleeping pads, roles of plastic sheeting,” the Japanese Embassy in Syria said in a statement.
Romanian plane arrives to Beirut
Meanwhile, a Romanian military plane arrived on Tuesday at Beirut International Airport carrying humanitarian aid to the affected areas in Syria as a result of the earthquake that struck it.
This plane is an expression of the solidarity of the government and people of Romania with the Syrian people in these painful and harsh moments, Sandovici added.
Russian Foreign Ministry stressed that the West is compromising over the needs of the earthquake victims in Syria, and is seeking to push the UN Security Council to expand the so-called (cross-border aid mechanism).
Some Western countries, led by the US, continue to violate the principles of international humanitarian law, encroach on Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and speculate about its needs as a result of the earthquake without waiting for the report of the UN committee that it set up to assess the damage on the ground, Tass News Agency quoted the ministry as saying in a statement on Tuesday.
The statement noted the active visits that were registered in the Security Council, led by Washington (during such a difficult stage to press for a new document and expand this mechanism).
Commentators have different views regarding sanctions
Arab and foreign commentators are tackling lifting the sanctions from different angles.
Jordanian commentator Ossam Al-Sarif, for example, calls on the West to reconsider their sanction “that hurt only civilians.”
He writes for Arab News, “Certainly many lives would have been saved if it wasn’t for Western-imposed sanctions against Damascus and the complex situation in rebel-held areas. On Saturday, Martin Griffiths, the under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs at the United Nations and emergency relief coordinator, tweeted after visiting the Turkiye-Syria border: “We have so far failed the people in northwest Syria. They rightly feel abandoned. Looking for international help that hasn’t arrived.”
The failure of the international community to deliver life-saving aid to the Syrian people has exposed the serious shortcomings of sanctions as an economic weapon deployed to achieve political goals, he adds.
He argued that “sanctions never hurt the leaders of the targeted country. But they do harm the civilian population and undermine the civilian infrastructure, as is the case of Syria, Iran and Afghanistan.”
But a Syrian-Lebanese commentator, Alia Mansour, is not convinced by that.
In an article she published in another Saudi-owned magazine, Al-Majalla, she wrote, “Barely hours have passed after the catastrophe occurred when pro-Syrian regime trumpets and others falsely claiming neutrality launched a campaign to “lift the siege on Syria, lift the sanctions” so that the “state” could save the lives that could be saved, and extend a helping hand to those affected.
A systematic misinformation campaign. Neither Syria is under siege nor sanctions preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid to Syria. Only Bashar al-Assad is preventing aid from accessing the areas most affected by the earthquake, as they are out of his control. Before the earthquake hit them, he and his allies, Russia and Iran, spared no effort t destroy them. Russia, his closest ally, used the veto power in the Security Council countless times to prevent the entry of aid to the Syrians.” Mansour reiterated that “Syria is not a besieged country, as was the case with Iraq, for example, after the invasion of Kuwait, and Syria is not under any sanctions, whether UN, American, or European. The sanction imposed in Syria is against individuals and entities who were proven to have committed war crimes and systematic killings against Syrians.”
Syrians turn to social media to locate lost relatives after earthquake
Syrians have taken to social media to find their relatives who went missing in Turkey after the 6 February earthquake, posting pictures of their lost loved ones and descriptions of where they were last seen.
Facebook groups and local media have all circulated pictures of Syrians who have not been heard of since the earthquake, which has left over 37,000 dead since last week.
“The first information I received was from his brother in Syria, that he was missing. After that, I started searching on Facebook, groups and Telegram,” Mohammed Kheir, a man from Hama City in Syria who is looking for his nephew, Walid al-Qassem, told The New Arab.
Al-Qassem, a 25-year-old barber who fled Syria during the war and settled in Antakya, in southern Turkey, has not been heard from since the earthquake.
Antakya, a city of about 200,000 with a sizeable Syrian population, was one of the worst hit cities by the earthquake.
Like many other Syrians, Kheir cannot cross into Turkey due to visa restrictions, so he is forced to rely on the information of friends and Facebook groups to try to triangulate the whereabouts of his nephew.
Friends of Kheir have searched local hospitals for al-Qassem and registered an application with Turkey’s disaster response team to try to locate him but to no avail.
“It is impossible for us to enter Turkey to search … thousands of families have lost their loved ones and are unable to do anything about it. Every now and then, we hear news, some true, some false,” Kheir said.