Syrian Red Crescent presses EU, US for quake aid
The Syrian Red Crescent on Tuesday appealed to Western countries to lift sanctions and provide aid after a powerful earthquake has killed more than 1,600 people across the war-torn country.
The 7.8-magnitude quake early Monday, which has also killed thousands in neighboring Turkey, led to widespread destruction in both regime-controlled and rebel-held parts of Syria.
After more than a decade of war, President Bashar al-Assad's government remains a pariah in the West, complicating international efforts to assist those affected by the quake.
Khaled Haboubati, head of the Syrian Red Crescent, urged on Tuesday "all European Union countries to lift economic sanctions on Syria".
"The time has come after this earthquake," Haboubati, whose organisation is based in government-held areas, told a press conference broadcast by Syrian state TV.
His call echoes a similar plea by Syria's Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, who on Monday said the government was ready to "provide all the required facilities" to receive humanitarian assistance.
Damascus often blames its financial woes on Western sanctions imposed in the wake of the 2011 conflict that began with the brutal repression of peaceful protests and escalated to pull in foreign powers and global jihadists.
Despite the sanctions, government-controlled parts of the country receive aid through United Nations agencies, many of which have headquarters in Damascus.
Syrian state media and rescuers said at least 1,602 people have died in the earthquake and more than 3,600 have been injured across the country.
The Red Crescent has dispatched 3,000 volunteers, Haboubati said.
"I appeal to United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide assistance to the Syrian people," he added.
The Syrian government's main allies Iran and Russia have expressed willingness to send aid, in addition to some Gulf states that restored ties with Damascus, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
The White House and the European Commission both said on Monday that humanitarian programs supported by them were responding to the destruction in Syria.
More than a decade of conflict and years of economic sanctions have devastated Syria's economy and its ability to respond to large-scale disasters.
The war has killed nearly half a million people and forced around half of the country's pre-war population from their homes, with many seeking refuge in Turkey.
At least 2.9 million people in Syria are at risk of sliding into hunger, while another 12 million do not know where their next meal is coming from, the U.N. said in January.