Turkey earthquake: UAE aid flights land in Syria's Damascus to help survivors

The National accompanied the UAE Armed Forces as they delivered crucial supplies

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More flights carrying humanitarian aid, including four so far from the UAE, landed at Damascus International Airport as the death toll in Syria passed the 3,000 mark in government and rebel-held areas in the north of the country.

The UAE has announced it plans to send seven aid flights to help with search and rescue operations in Turkey and Syria.

The National accompanied the UAE Armed Forces onboard a C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft carrying more than 16 tonnes of humanitarian aid and relief.

The first cargo plane took off on Wednesday morning carrying 25 tonnes of aid, including food items, medical equipment and tents.

The two military transport aircraft landed on Wednesday evening.

The flights to Turkey and Syria over the past two days carried search and rescue teams from the Ministry of Interior, Abu Dhabi Police and Dubai Police, as well as taking a field hospital to Turkey.

The continuing operations are all a part of the UAE's Operation Gallant Knight 2.

“For Syria, the priority of aid identified by Syrian authorities are foodstuffs and tents, but we will also provide other support, with search and rescue teams, as well as a field hospital on the way,” said Maj Gen Saleh Al Ameri, Commander of Joint Operations at the Ministry of Defence.

Speaking to The National from the tarmac of Damascus International Airport, Syrian officials said several flights from other countries had touched down since the earthquake hit southern Turkey and northern Syria on Monday morning.

“The flights from the brotherly country of the UAE comes within the framework of the air bridge that the UAE established to help the Syrian people as a result of the disaster that befell them,” Moataz Dowa Ji, Syria's assistant minister of local administration and environment, told The National.

The issue of humanitarian aid being sent directly to the Syrian capital has been a delicate one. The country's government has made an official plea to the EU for help, the bloc's commissioner for crisis management Janez Lenarcic has said.

The EU was quick to send rescue teams to Turkey after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck.

But the bloc initially offered only minimal assistance to Syria through existing humanitarian programmes because of EU sanctions imposed since 2011 on the government of President Bashar Al Assad over his crackdown on protesters, which was followed by civil war.

After Syria called for help, the commission asked European countries “to respond favourably to this request” through the EU's Civil Protection Mechanism, which co-ordinates aid.

The US said on Tuesday it was working with partners to provide earthquake relief in Syria, but would not work with the government in Damascus.

“In Syria itself, we have US-funded humanitarian partners that are co-ordinating life-saving assistance,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

“We're committed to providing that assistance to help people in Syria recover from this disaster, just as we have been their leading humanitarian donor since the start of the war in Syria itself.

“I want to emphasise that these funds, of course, go to the Syrian people — not to the regime. That won't change.”

Mr Dowa Ji said the country needed “all kinds of aid to face this difficult circumstance that we are going through".

"Yesterday I was in Latakia province and I saw tragic scenes of the wreckage of the buildings, of the homeless people in the shelters, of the people who remained under the rubble,” he said.

International humanitarian groups working around the clock have said their biggest challenge was moving aid from Damascus airport to the affected areas in north of the country amid freezing weather.

“Much assistance is being received from many countries from around the region and the world,” said Hossam Elsharkawi, regional director at International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

“It's a race against time to get all of these supplies and all of these trucks all the way to the north, across many roads that have snow and rain and massive storms.”

Overnight on Wednesday, when temperatures reached minus 3°C in Damascus, staff at Damascus airport said they worked continually to receive relief aid flights from several countries and refuel planes for a quick turnaround.

“Logistics have been ongoing for several days since the devastating earthquake and we’ve been working non-stop and on overtime to ensure we’re receiving the aid and helping to refuel these military aircraft so that the runway is cleared for other flights sending assistance,” one airport worker told The National.

UAE President Sheikh Mohamed ordered $50 million in aid to be sent to support people in Turkey and $50 million to be sent to help those in Syria, state news agency Wam reported.

On Monday, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, ordered humanitarian aid worth Dh50 million ($13.6 million) through the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to help people in Syria affected by the earthquake.

Updated: February 09, 2023, 11:30 AM