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Sanctions on Syria not blocking aid to quake victims: US

Local residents bring a mattress to a greenhouse where they shelter after the earthquake in Samandag, southern Turkiye, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023. (AP)
Local residents bring a mattress to a greenhouse where they shelter after the earthquake in Samandag, southern Turkiye, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023. (AP)
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17 Feb 2023 04:02:45 GMT9
17 Feb 2023 04:02:45 GMT9
  • “When people are in need, the US will answer that need,” official tells briefing attended by Arab News
  • “There has been no change, nor do we expect a change in our policies toward the Assad regime”

Ray Hanania

CHICAGO: US officials on Thursday said they will continue to provide relief supplies and funding to help the victims of last week’s earthquakes that devastated Turkiye and Syria, and stressed that sanctions on the regime in Damascus are not hindering that support.

John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications at the White House, told reporters during a briefing attended by Arab News that the US is working with the UN and the Turkish government to ensure more access for international relief efforts to get to Syria.

Kirby said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Turkiye on Monday to assess the situation there, and stressed that victims’ needs have not changed Washington’s policies toward the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“I know of no direct communication with the Assad regime. As you know, we don’t have diplomatic relations with the regime. Our work is all being done through UN and UN-partnered organizations that we have a long track record of working with in getting the aid and assistance to them so they can get it to the Syrian people,” Kirby said.

“I know of no such policy change with respect to the Assad regime. All of our sanctions are still in place.

“As you saw, we did execute a general license a week ago that will allow even more humanitarian assistance to flow, not that the humanitarian assistance wasn’t flowing already even with the sanctions in place. When people are dying and when people are in need, the United States will answer that need,” Kirby added.

“But there has been no change, nor do we expect a change in our policies … toward the Assad regime.”

Kirby said two more crossings from Turkiye to Syria were opened recently, allowing more relief to reach earthquake victims.

US President Joe Biden “has made it absolutely clear that the US is going to stay prepared to provide any and all types of aid to the people of Turkey and Syria in response to the almost overwhelming humanitarian crisis there on both sides of the border,” Kirby added.

“In Syria, we absolutely need to keep the aid flowing so the Syrian people can get the help they need as well.

“The decision earlier this week to open two additional border crossings for US convoys is welcome but it’s long overdue. We’d like to see more access into Syria.”

Kirby said the US is monitoring claims by the Assad regime that it will help victims, adding: “We believe that only a UN Security Council resolution codifying this agreement can ensure that the Assad regime doesn’t go back on its word and allows this vital humanitarian assistance to reach so many desperate Syrians in need.”

Kirby said the US has provided more than $85 million in aid along with an extensive list of supplies, even providing helicopter support to deliver aid to inaccessible regions of the earthquake zone. He added that the US is working through partners in the region to get that relief to victims.

“They’ve been able to increase those efforts in the past several days as 95 truckloads of aid have been able to cross the border into the northwest (of Syria), even in the face of some of their own staff members being killed or hurt as a result of the earthquake,” Kirby said.

“And even today, US government partners are providing lifesaving assistance throughout all the areas of Syria, and that assistance includes urgent healthcare, shelter support, food, medicine, water, sanitation equipment, and things for general hygiene,” he added.

“The additional funding is going to help bolster these partners’ relief efforts, and certainly help to improve it and maybe even expand it, with an emphasis on the hardest-hit communities in Syria.

“Those partners include the White Helmets who have pulled countless survivors from the rubble, and US-supported Syrian medics who have been treating survivors from Idlib to Aleppo and other affected areas. There’s a lot of work being done and money being directed to that area.”

Kirby said American teams are also assessing the liveability of remaining buildings to clear them so residents can return. More than 5,500 buildings have been cleared so far, he added.

“The US military stands ready to support with additional capabilities, and obviously we’re going to do that in lockstep with the Turkish government,” he said.

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