Israel sends humanitarian aid to Turkey after devastating earthquake

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also agreed to provide assistance to Syria, despite not having diplomatic relations with the country

AFP/ILYAS AKENGIN  -   The destructive earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale that struck Turkey and Syria has left more than 5,000 people dead and more than 20,000 injured

The destructive earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale that struck Turkey and Syria has left more than 5,000 people dead and more than 20,000 injured, making it one of the worst earthquakes in decades. The devastating images of overwhelmed emergency services trying to rescue people from the rubble have highlighted the need for urgent international assistance for both countries, one of which - Syria - has been embroiled in conflict since 2011. 

Appeals for help have been heard and governments and international organisations have poured into the affected areas, sending rescue teams and humanitarian aid.

Israel has been one of the first nations to respond, sending two aid delegations to Turkey. The first arrived this morning in the city of Adana in order to "get an initial picture of the situation on the ground", as The Times of Israel reports. Subsequently, the Israeli government has sent another "larger" mission that includes "extensive humanitarian aid in cooperation with other aid agencies", the foreign ministry said in a statement. 

The Israeli media reports that this second delegation includes search and rescue equipment from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Home Front Command, a unit tasked with the search and rescue of people, mainly in the event of war or natural disasters. A third plane is also expected to be sent with humanitarian goods and medicines.  

"Today we are sending two professional delegations on behalf of the State of Israel, including representatives of the Foreign Ministry, in order to do everything possible to assist the victims," Israeli diplomatic chief Eli Cohen said during a meeting with senior Foreign Ministry officials and representatives of the National Security Council, the Israel Defence Forces and the Defence and Health Ministries to discuss sending aid to Turkey. 

Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry Director-General Ronen Levi stressed that "the knowledge gained by the Ministry's missions in this field is extremely important for the successful management of this incident". "We must be ready to assist anyone who needs help. We must act as quickly as possible in order to save lives," he added. 

Both Cohen and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nentanyahu have conveyed their condolences to the Turkish government and people. Since the day of the disaster, Cohen has been in contact with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Cavusoglu, as well as the Israeli ambassador to Ankara, Irit Lillian. 

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Galant also held talks with the Turkish military and defence minister, Hulusi Akar, to coordinate the Israeli aid sent to the affected area. Similarly, the Israeli Magen David Adom emergency services are in contact with their Turkish counterparts from the Turkish Red Crescent. 

Syria denies having asked Israel for help

The Netanyahu government has also approved sending humanitarian assistance to Syria after a Russian diplomat requested it, according to an Israeli source in The Times of Israel. However, the Israeli authorities are still considering how to deliver this aid, as the two countries do not have diplomatic relations

Israeli media reports indicate that the Hebrew state will send tents, medicines and blankets. Israel will also receive wounded Syrians for medical treatment, according to a senior official.

However, the pro-government Syrian newspaper Al Watan has denied these claims, saying that Damascus has not asked Israel for help. An official source quoted by the newspaper accuses Netanyahu of using the earthquake to "mislead public opinion". 

Wave of international solidarity with the Turkish and Syrian people

In addition to Israel, dozens of countries have sent rescue and aid missions to the areas affected by the brutal earthquake. Following the activation of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, 19 Member States (Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain) together with Albania and Montenegro have offered assistance delegations in coordination with the EU Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) and the Turkish authorities. European countries have so far offered Turkey 1,185 rescuers and 79 search dogs, although these numbers are likely to increase

On the other hand, in Syria, the EU is funding humanitarian partnerships on the ground that are carrying out search and rescue operations, while providing water and sanitation, and distributing blankets and hygiene items in affected areas. Delivering aid to the affected Syrian areas is more complicated due to Western sanctions on the government of Bashar al-Assad.

In this regard, the Syrian Red Crescent, as well as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), have called on the West to lift sanctions to facilitate the arrival of assistance. In a similar vein, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said the Syrian government was ready to "provide all necessary facilities" to receive humanitarian assistance. 

The United States, one of the nations that has offered aid, has already announced its "commitment" to those affected, but ruled out any direct contact with al-Assad's government. "It would be quite ironic, if not counterproductive, for us to reach out to a government that has brutally mistreated its people for years," State Department spokesman Ned Price said during a press briefing. Instead, Washington will work with its "humanitarian partners on the ground". 

Countries that have joined the aid effort include the United Kingdom, Iraq, India, China, Japan and the United Arab Emirates, which has announced $100 million for victims in both countries.