Calls to withdraw sanctions on earthquake-hit Syria grow louder

Despite the US announcing temporary exemption from its sanctions on Syria, no Western country except Italy has come forward to provide any kind of assistance to Syria’s earthquake relief efforts

February 14, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Syria earthquake relief
Aleppo, Syria. (UNICEF/Muhannad Al-Asadi )

On Monday, February 13, Syrian Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) Bassam Sabbagh stated before the UN Security Council (UNSC) that all countries should provide humanitarian assistance to all those affected by the earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria on February 6 and avoid all kinds of politicization. He also reiterated Syria’s position that “Western imposed illegal coercive measures” have caused delays in support for earthquake relief in the country.

Sabbagh was speaking during the special meeting called by the UNSC to discuss the impact of the earthquake on Syria. While Turkey has received aid and relief from multiple countries including the US, no Western country except Italy has come forward to provide help to Syria so far.

However, various developing nations, such as Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, Palestine, and Algeria, among others, have extended their helping hand to Syria and sent relief material and volunteers including doctors to earthquake-affected areas in the country. China too has sent relief material worth USD 4.4 billion to Syria already.  

More than 31,000 people have been killed in Turkey and over 5,800 in Syria due to the earthquake. According to the UN, the earthquake, which was centered in Kahramanmaras in southern Turkey, has affected more than 50,000 square kilometers of area covering at least 10 provinces in both Turkey and Syria. The UN also claimed that at least 6,000 high-rise buildings have been damaged in the earthquake and the hundreds of aftershocks. It is likely that the total death toll will continue to go up in the coming days.  

According to some initial estimates, the earthquake has caused damage of around USD 85 billion in Turkey, or around 10% of the national GDP. The value of the economic damage in Syria is still unclear.

War and sanctions have weakened Syria’s health sector 

Sabbagh pointed out that the impact of the sanctions has been as devastating for Syrians as the earthquake, SANA reported. He highlighted that the health sector in the country has been “weakened and depleted” due to sanctions and war. He said that Syria faces “great shortage of medical equipment and medicines,” and therefore is unable to provide adequate relief during emergencies like the pandemic and the earthquake.  

“Syria alone did not have the capacity to face this unprecedented catastrophe due to the repercussions of the terrorist war waged against it for 12 years and the suffocating blockade imposed on its people as a result of Western unilateral coercive measures,” Sabbagh emphasized.  

Over a dozen leftist groups and human right organizations in West Asia and North Africa issued a joint statement last week and demanded to immediately lift “the unjust siege on Syria, restore diplomatic relations with it and drop the imperialist Caesar Act.” 

The signatories include the Tunisian Workers’ Party, the Workers’ Democratic Way Party of Morocco, and the Lebanese Communist Party, among others. The letter condemned “the policy of double standards practiced by imperialism and official international institutions, including in dealing with disasters and pandemics, which confirms their aggressive and brutal nature that contradicts all human values and principles.” [Full statement below]

China also came forward and demanded on Monday that the US lift all the sanctions on Syria. It called the temporary easing of sanctions announced by the US last week a ”political show.” 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that “US military intervention and illegal unilateral sanctions against Syria over the years have severely aggravated the crisis in the economy and people’s livelihood in Syria, and greatly weakened Syria’s ability to cope with disasters,” Global Times reported.

Syria agrees to open more border crossings 

Meanwhile, responding to UN appeals, the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria on Monday agreed to open two more border crossings with Turkey in the region for three months. The decision was welcomed by the UN Secretary General, who claimed that it will allow the “timely delivery of humanitarian aid.” 

As per a UNSC resolution in January this year, only the Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Turkey and Syria was allowed to function to facilitate cross-border aid delivery into rebel held areas in northwest Syria. The Assad government had opposed all cross-border aid delivery earlier, claiming that it bypasses the legitimate government and violates Syria’s sovereignty. The Assad regime has been demanding that all foreign aid to Syria be coordinated through its government. 

As per the new arrangement, two more border crossings—Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee—will be open for aid delivery through the Turkish border, in addition to Bab al-Hawa. 

Certain rebel groups and organizations working in the rebel-held areas of Syria have questioned the UN’s attempts to mobilize the Assad government’s support for coordinating better relief operations in Syria’s northwest. These groups claim that this will provide political advantage to the Assad government, Al-Jazeera reported.  

Responding to these claims, Sabbagh said that the region “is part of [Syria’s] national territory and the population there is part of the Syrian people.” He added that the Assad government will not accept any attempt by “terrorist groups” to divide the country.  

Joint statement:

The Syrian and Turkish territories, especially the Kurdish areas, were subjected to a violent earthquake whose victims have so far exceeded thousands of victims, wounded and displaced persons in very harsh climatic conditions, and while the peoples and some humanitarian bodies moved in solidarity with the two afflicted peoples, imperialism, international official institutions and most Arab regimes dealt again with double standards, as they sent aid to the Turkish regime while perpetuating the unjust siege against Syria, which its people have been suffering for more than ten years, which is the age of civil war and aggression. Imperialist and regional Arab and Zionist.

The undersigned parties and organizations, affirming their unconditional solidarity and sympathy with the brotherly peoples of Syria and Turkey,:

Strongly condemn the policy of double standards practiced by imperialism and official international institutions, including in dealing with disasters and pandemics, which confirms their aggressive and brutal nature that contradicts all human values and principles.

– Call on the masses and national forces to organize all forms of pressure on the Arab regimes in order to immediately lift the unjust siege on Syria, restore diplomatic relations with it and drop the imperialist Caesar Act.

– Participate in all forms of material and moral support for the two brotherly peoples, and call on all free people in the world to organize all possible support in order to devote to the unity and solidarity of humanity.

Signatory Parties and Organizations:

1- Workers’ Party-Tunisia

2- Workers’ Democratic Way Party – Morocco 

3- Jordanian Democratic People’s Party (Hashad)

4-We Can-Mauritania Movement

5- Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine 

6- Lebanese Communist Party

7- Jordanian Democratic Popular Unity Party

8- Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine 

9- Bahraini Progressive Platform 

10- Association of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders in Western Sahara CODESA

11- Socialist Popular Alliance Party – Egypt

12-Kuwait Progressive Movement 

13- Palestinian People’s Party 

14- Sudanese Communist Party

15- Jordanian Communist Party 

16- Qutb Party-Tunisia

17- United Democratic National Party-Tunisia 

18- Arab and Maghreb Student and Youth Front against Normalization and Support for the Palestinian Cause

19- Egyptian Communist Party