Syrians for Truth and Justice: Turkish government, Syrian regime, and other parties in Syrian conflict have blocked or hampered urgent aid deliveries to areas devastated by earthquake

Vital aid to areas in Syria and Turkey that were hit by earthquakes has been restricted or blocked due to political issues, according to a report by Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ).

The Turkish government, Syrian regime, and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) have all blocked shipments of aid to affected areas.

In the wake of the earthquake, Turkey and the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) repeatedly blocked convoys of aid and fuel from the Democratic Autonomous Administration (DAA) of North and East Syria to affected areas.

STJ sought a comment on the situation from a top-ranking commander of the SNA. The commander stated that the decision to prevent the entry of the aid convoy was solely made by Turkey. He further added that the decision was conveyed to the head of the Syrian Interim Government (SIG), Abdurrahman Mustafa, who refused to allow the convoy to enter the area and accusing the DAA of politicizing the situation. Mustafa did not elaborate how the delivery of aid to the affected areas was political.

The SIG’s response was met with widespread public disapproval.

A convoy of humanitarian aid and fuel destined for earthquake affected areas in northwestern Syria blocked by Turkey and the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA).

Another SNA commander informed STJ that fighters from various factions had strongly urged their leadership to accept the aid offered by the DAA, particularly fuel required to operate the rescue equipment. The majority of those trapped under the rubble were the families of these fighters.

A relief worker who participated in pulling victims from the debris shared with STJ that the rescue teams encountered significant challenges, particularly due to the limited capacity of the machinery. The available equipment was inadequate to support the rescue workers dealing with the debris from thousands of collapsed buildings.

The worker also mentioned that the rescue teams faced a shortage of fuel for the rescue machinery, forcing them to request fuel supplies from all parties involved in the Syrian conflict:

“Fuel supplies in northern Syria were so scarce that they could have never operated the equipment involved in rescue operations because the equipment is heavy and consumes large amounts of fuel. Some consume 220 fuel liters per hour, so you can estimate the amounts needed for dozens of dozers, cranes, ambulances, and logistical support vehicles, which had to be operated simultaneously and were nonetheless not enough to pull thousands of people stuck in the rubble. Northwestern Syria was cut off from the rest of the world and received nothing but dead bodies from Turkey over the first five days. No assistance was sent either from the areas of the Syrian regime or elsewhere. The area was left to its own devices under such acute needs.”

The report highlighted the need for governments to prioritize the humanitarian needs of those affected by natural disasters and allow access for aid organizations to provide assistance. It also calls for increased cooperation and coordination between governments and aid organizations to ensure that aid reaches those in need as quickly as possible.

The international community, regional actors, and states involved in Syria must use all air and land routes to provide immediate humanitarian assistance and rescue crews to affected areas. Any delays will only worsen the already dire situation in these areas, which are grappling with the consequences of the ongoing conflict and the lack of life-saving resources.

The primary responsibility for facilitating aid deliveries, ensuring unimpeded distribution, and ensuring fair allocation falls on the Syrian and Turkish governments and the Ankara-backed factions that operate in northern Syria’s affected areas that Turkey occupies.

Failure to comply with these obligations is a blatant breach of humanitarian principles and international humanitarian law, said STJ.

Thirty-two political parties and organizations within the Democratic Autonomous Administration (DAA) of North and East Syria, including the Syriac Union Party (SUP), have issued a statement denouncing the exploitation of the earthquake by the Turkish government, Syrian regime, and some donor countries to achieve political goals and demographic change.

According to the statement, “the earthquake revealed the true face of the Turkish regime, which is politicizing it to impose political, social, and cultural realities and demographic changes in the occupied Syrian areas.”

“In addition, the Turkish regime has pursued a hostile policy towards displaced Syrians in Turkey, expelling them from camps to house Turks made homeless by the earthquake,” it added.

The statement condemned the international community’s silence and inability to pressure Turkey to open humanitarian border crossings to the affected areas, which has exacerbated the disaster and led to more victims due to delays in rescue and relief efforts.

They appealed to the international community to break its silence towards Turkey’s inhumane policies towards the peoples of the region and call on Qatar to stop building settlements that bring demographic change and called for the de facto embargo imposed on DAA areas to be lifted, for the reopening of the Tel Koçer border crossing, and for pressure to be put on the Syrian regime to engage in a serious and responsible national dialogue.