Earthquake rescuers demand 'real' aid as convoy for Syria crosses Turkish border

More than 16,000 people have lost their lives since the first 7.8-magnitude quake hit Syria and Turkey on Monday

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Rescuers in north-west Syria have pleaded with the UN to send “real” aid, even after the first convoy arrived through the Turkish border, a White Helmets rescue group spokesman told The National on Thursday.

Six aid lorries were reported to have arrived in north-western Syria a day after the UN said it hoped to make deliveries there for the first time since the earthquake struck on Monday.

“It's nothing but the routine aid that usually comes through,” said a spokesman for the White Helmets' deputy director Mounir Al Mustafa.

“This is just food, sterilisers and cleaning supplies … But in terms of relief or aid to help those trapped and in need of rescue, there has been absolutely nothing. No plan for them.”

The UN said it had halted assistance passing through Turkey for logistical reasons.

Mazen Alloush, an official of the Bab Al Hawa crossing administration, confirmed the trucks are just food and cleaning supplies.

“The UN convoy arrived an hour ago, it was just a routine convoy that was planned from before the earthquake. We expect that in the coming days another UN convoy will arrive with earthquake relief, bigger than today’s.”

Syrian opposition groups on Wednesday said the Bab Al Hawa crossing from Turkey, the only UN-recognised route for aid into north-western Syria, had reopened but rescuers said it's “too late”.

“Even if the UN today began helping with aid to rescue people trapped under the rubble, it's too late," said a White Helmets civil defence spokesman.

"Right now, the voices of those trapped under the rubble are getting weaker. They are dying. The day before yesterday we saved hundreds of people.

"Yesterday it was dozens. Today it's less and less. We need real aid from the UN, urgently.”

The four million people in the region, including the internally displaced population living in tents, are suffering in low winter temperatures. Some roads have been blocked by snow.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey was planning to open two new border crossings to deliver aid to Syria.

“Some European countries and Turkey are having issues delivering aid to Syria due to weak infrastructure affected by the quakes,” he said.

Rescue teams in rebel-held Idlib province and surrounding towns said they have yet to receive assistance, calling for heavy machinery and equipment to help in search and rescue operations which are currently being carried out mostly by hand.

The death toll from Monday's 7.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria has surpassed 16,000.

With planes carrying international aid arriving at Damascus airport, preparations were also under way for relief convoys to cross Syria's war front lines to reach the north-west, UN regional humanitarian co-ordinator for the Syria crisis, Muhannad Hadi, said on Wednesday.

“We're hoping that everybody puts the interests of the people first, we need to keep politics aside,” he said.

“Cross-line, as of today, does not replace cross-border.”

Syria has called any cross-border aid a breach of its sovereignty.

“Without the control of the government, without permission of the government, without approval from the government — this is violation. Very simple,” Syria's UN ambassador Bassam Sabbagh said on Tuesday.

“Cross-line is available.”

Meantime, the UN said it was facing shortages in trauma supply and medical kits in Syria, an official told The National on Wednesday.

“There's been shortages of trauma supplies and medical kits from Damascus [Unicef warehouses] so we've been using our warehouses in Lebanon and Jordan to send emergency supplies into affected areas in Syria for operating theatres,” spokesman James Elder said.

Updated: February 10, 2023, 1:14 AM