Syria tells Lebanon it is too busy to resolve maritime dispute

Special Syria tells Lebanon it is too busy to resolve maritime dispute
Lebanon’s Deputy parliament speaker Elias Bou Saab speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, Oct. 3, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 25 October 2022

Syria tells Lebanon it is too busy to resolve maritime dispute

Syria tells Lebanon it is too busy to resolve maritime dispute
  • Michel Aoun discussed the dispute with Bashar Assad in a telephone call at the weekend, before instructing Elias Bou Saab to head a Lebanese delegation to Damascus
  • Syria on Tuesday rejected the delegation, saying that Lebanon had failed to send an “official letter” and that its own negotiators were too busy

BEIRUT: Efforts to resolve a maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Syria appear to have foundered after Damascus rebuffed attempts by President Michel Aoun to set up official talks.

Aoun discussed the dispute with President Bashar Assad in a telephone call at the weekend, before instructing Elias Bou Saab, the deputy speaker of parliament, to head a Lebanese delegation to Damascus.

Syria on Tuesday rejected the delegation, however, saying that Lebanon had failed to send an “official letter” and that its own negotiators were too busy. The rebuff leaves the president without a resolution six days before the end of his term.

Ali Abdul Karim Ali, the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, said after meeting Aoun on Tuesday: “Lebanon did not send an official letter to set the dates for ministers and officials in Syria to meet the Lebanese delegation in a timely manner.

“The Syrian authorities thus apologized for not being able to receive the Lebanese delegation because Syrian officials already have prior engagements.”

Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry was separately told by Syria that “the timing is not appropriate for such a visit.”

The sea boundary dispute emerged last year after Syria granted a license to a Russian company to explore an area claimed by Lebanon.

Syria reportedly wants to tie any agreement to the identity of the Shebaa Farms area, which is claimed by both Damascus and Beirut, as well as Israel.

Ali, whom Aoun awarded on Tuesday the National Order of the Cedar, said his country had “always facilitated the outstanding issues between Lebanon and Syria and there is a treaty of brotherhood and cooperation between the two countries.”

He requested that “the concerned leaders and ministers meet.”

Meanwhile, the Lebanese General Security service announced hundreds of Syrian refugees would voluntarily go back to their country on Wednesday, in the latest round of a returns initiative that began in 2017.

Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, the service’s chief, said that returning Syrians to their homeland was a “national duty that we must fulfill.”

“There are around 2.8 million Syrians in Lebanon, including refugees; 42 percent of prisoners in Lebanon are Syrians, which puts additional pressure on us,” he said, adding that over half a million had already voluntarily returned since 2017.

“Lebanon rejects the way some humanitarian organizations try to dictate their will to us,” he said. 

“We will not submit to pressure because the interest of the Lebanese people is first and foremost, and we will not force any refugee to return. This is our principle and we seek to ease the burden on Lebanon.”

However, an official at a refugee camp in Arsal told Arab News that some who had registered to return had “changed their mind for fear of what might await them.”

Lisa Abu Khaled, the media official at the UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency, told Arab News: “Lebanon says that it has 1.5 million Syrian refugees, while the number of those registered with us is 825,000, and we know that there are many more.”

Lebanon’s Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar said that the return scheme was “safe and there is no pressure; be it a small or a large number of refugees returning. We do not care about the numbers; we rather focus on ensuring a safe return."

About 700 refugees are expected to return to Syria on Wednesday. The Lebanese hope to process around 15,000 every month.

“We want to reiterate to the international community that we are a sovereign state," said Hajjar. "Lebanon has provided enough support on the financial and health levels. Today, we no longer have the means to bear such expenses. We have become a poor country, and the only solution is for refugees to return home.”

During a visit to a camp in Arsal, Hajjar told Syrian residents that they were “going back according to a mechanism agreed upon between the two countries, and we assume the responsibility of ensuring that everyone who returns to Syria will be safe.”

Syria meanwhile said that it had “spared no effort to facilitate the return” of refugees, including enacting a law that pardons “terrorists” not wanted for murder, issuing amnesty decrees and starting a reconciliation process for regime opponents.

Lebanon abides by the 2011 decision of the Arab League to suspend Syria’s membership due to the regime’s brutal suppression of popular protests.


UK activates aid for Turkiye, Syria rescue efforts

UK activates aid for Turkiye, Syria rescue efforts
Updated 20 sec ago

UK activates aid for Turkiye, Syria rescue efforts

UK activates aid for Turkiye, Syria rescue efforts
  • Development minister: ‘The aid budget is under very considerable strain’
  • The UK is sending 76 experts and specialists to Turkiye, as well as an emergency response team

LONDON: The UK is sending aid to Syria and Turkiye to support earthquake recovery efforts, The Guardian reported.

Development Minister Andrew Mitchell said although Britain’s development budget faces “very considerable strain,” there are reserve funds that can be activated to respond to severe humanitarian disasters.

Dozens of countries around the world, as well as hundreds of aid organizations, have committed to sending aid and personnel to Turkiye and Syria in the wake of the earthquakes, which killed more than 5,000 people.

The UK is sending 76 experts and specialists to Turkiye, as well as an emergency response team, Mitchell said.

“The aid budget is under very considerable strain. But Britain always carves out a certain amount to cope with humanitarian crises,” he told Sky News.

The death toll from the series of earthquakes, which measured at magnitude 7.5, could rise to more than 20,000, the World Health Organization has warned.

“There’s continued potential of further collapses to happen so we do often see in the order of eightfold increases on the initial numbers,” said Catherine Smallwood, the WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe.

“We always see the same thing with earthquakes, unfortunately, which is that the initial reports of the numbers of people who have died or who have been injured will increase quite significantly in the week that follows.”


Egypt to send urgent relief aid for Syria, Turkiye quake victims

Egypt to send urgent relief aid for Syria, Turkiye quake victims
Updated 30 min 13 sec ago

Egypt to send urgent relief aid for Syria, Turkiye quake victims

Egypt to send urgent relief aid for Syria, Turkiye quake victims

Cairo - Egypt is to send urgent relief aid to Turkiye and Syria following Monday’s earthquake that killed thousands of people in the two countries.

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry offered condolences to his Syrian counterpart Faisal Al-Miqdad, informed him about the Egyptian aid, wished success for the rescue efforts, and a speedy recovery for the injured.

Shoukry also passed on his country’s condolences to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Ahmed Abu Zeid, spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, said the consular sector in the ministry was in constant touch with the Egyptian embassies in Ankara and Damascus to monitor the situation for Egyptians affected by the quake.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit sent messages to the foreign ministers of Syria and Turkiye expressing “sincere sympathy for this great affliction,” and wishing a speedy recovery for those wounded in the earthquake.


Hundreds still under earthquake rubble in rebel-held Syria — rescue workers

Hundreds still under earthquake rubble in rebel-held Syria — rescue workers
Updated 07 February 2023

Hundreds still under earthquake rubble in rebel-held Syria — rescue workers

Hundreds still under earthquake rubble in rebel-held Syria — rescue workers
  • Rescue effort hampered by freezing conditions
  • White Helmets rescuers seek international help

AMMAN: Time is running out to save hundreds of families trapped under the rubble of buildings brought down by Monday’s earthquake, the head of the Syrian opposition-run civil defense service said on Tuesday.
Raed Al-Saleh told Reuters urgent help was needed from international groups for the rescue effort by the organization known as the White Helmets in rebel-held northwest Syria, where hundreds were killed and injured.
“Every second means saving lives and we call on all humanitarian organizations to give material aid and respond to this catastrophe urgently,” he said.
The magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Turkiye and Syria early on Monday, toppling apartment blocks, wrecking hospitals and leaving thousands of people injured or homeless.
At least 1,444 people were killed in Syria and about 3,500 injured, according to figures from the Damascus government and rescue workers in the northwestern region controlled by insurgents.
Rescue teams worked early on Tuesday to free people trapped in the rubble of buildings in southern Turkiye as the death toll in that country rose to more than 3,400.

 

 

In areas hit by the earthquake in northwestern Syria, rescue efforts were hampered by lack of equipment and freezing conditions. Rescuers cleared piles of debris using makeshift tools and their hands.
“There are a lot of efforts by our teams but they are unable to respond to the catastrophe and the large number of collapsed buildings,” Al-Saleh said.
Syria’s Emergency Response Team, a non-governmental organization that operates in the rebel-held enclave, said snow storms had closed roads within makeshift camps that house tens of thousands of displaced Syrians.
“We have great difficulty in getting heavy equipment because of the large spread of places that were affected,” said Salamah Ibrahim, a senior rescuer operating in the city of Sarmada, where a whole neighborhood fell to the ground.
The rebel-held enclave in the northwest of Syria is a refuge for around four million people, many of whom have been uprooted by a Russian-backed Syrian government assault that turned the tide in favor of President Bashar Assad during the more than decade-long Syrian conflict.
“Most of the hospitals are full and the situation is catastrophic. We are in need of medicines urgently to cover the needs,” said Zuhair al Qarat, head of the health authority in Idlib city.
Damage was also widely seen in government-held Aleppo city’s eastern sector, whose buildings bore the brunt of intensive aerial bombing by Russia and the Syrian military to push out rebels in 2016, according to rescuers and aid workers.


WHO: Turkiye, Syria quake could affect up to 23 million people

WHO: Turkiye, Syria quake could affect up to 23 million people
Updated 07 February 2023

WHO: Turkiye, Syria quake could affect up to 23 million people

WHO: Turkiye, Syria quake could affect up to 23 million people

GENEVA: Up to 23 million people could be affected by the massive earthquake that has killed thousands in Turkiye and Syria, the WHO warned on Tuesday, promising long-term assistance.
“Event overview maps show that potentially 23 million people are exposed, including around five million vulnerable populations,” the World Health Organization’s senior emergencies officer Adelheid Marschang said.
“Civilian infrastructure and potentially health infrastructure have been damaged across the affected region, mainly in Turkiye and northwest Syria,” she said.
The WHO “considers that the main unmet needs may be in Syria in the immediate and mid-term,” Marschang told the WHO’s executive committee in Geneva.
She spoke as rescuers in Turkiye and Syria braved freezing cold, aftershocks and collapsing buildings, as they dug for survivors buried by a string of earthquakes that killed more than 5,000 people.
“It is now a race against time,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, explaining that the UN health agency was urgently sending aid to the area.
“We’re mobilizing emergency supplies and we have activated the WHO network of emergency medical teams to provide essential health care for the injured and most vulnerable.”
Disaster agencies said several thousand buildings were flattened in cities across a vast Turkiye-Syria border region — pouring misery on an area already plagued by war, insurgency, refugee crises and a recent cholera outbreak.
Through the night, survivors used their bare hands to pick over the twisted ruins of multi-story apartment blocks — trying to save family, friends and anyone else sleeping inside when the first massive 7.8-magnitude quake struck early Monday.
The situation is particularly dire in northern Syria, which has already been decimated by years of war.
“The movement of aid through the border into northwest Syria is likely to be or is already disrupted due to the damage caused by the earthquake,” Marschang said.
“This in itself would be a huge crisis already.”
She addressed a special meeting on the tragedy, which held a minute’s silence for the victims.
The WHO chief vowed that the agency would “work closely with all partners to support authorities in both countries in the critical hours and days ahead, and in the months and years to come as both countries recover and rebuild.”


In Turkiye’s worst-hit province, residents cry for help amid weak quake response

In Turkiye’s worst-hit province, residents cry for help amid weak quake response
Updated 07 February 2023

In Turkiye’s worst-hit province, residents cry for help amid weak quake response

In Turkiye’s worst-hit province, residents cry for help amid weak quake response
  • Rescue workers struggle to cope with the scale of destruction across southern Turkiye and northwest Syria
  • the total death toll rising above 5,000 on Tuesday morning

ANTAKYA: “They’re making noises but nobody is coming,” Deniz cried out, holding his hands to his head as he railed against the lack of efforts to rescue those trapped under rubble after a powerful earthquake killed thousands in Turkiye and Syria.
Desperate screams for help could be heard from those trapped in collapsed buildings in the Mediterranean coastal province of Hatay where people tried to keep warm around bonfires in cold rainy weather.
Hatay, which borders northwest Syria, is the worst-hit province in Turkiye with at least 872 people killed. Residents complained of inadequate emergency response and rescue workers said they have struggled to get equipment.
Deniz cried as he pointed to a destroyed building in which his mother and father were stuck, awaiting emergency workers.
“We’re devastated, we’re devastated. My God!” he said. “They’re calling out. They’re saying, ‘Save us,’ but we can’t save them. How are we going to save them? There has been nobody since the morning.”
Rescue workers have struggled to cope with the scale of destruction across southern Turkiye and northwest Syria, with the total death toll rising above 5,000 on Tuesday morning.

 

 

Turkiye’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) has said 13,740 search and rescue personnel have been deployed to the quake region, but the level of damage is huge with nearly 6,000 buildings destroyed in southern Turkiye.
In Hatay alone, more than 1,200 buildings have been destroyed, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.
Rescue teams in the province complained about a lack of equipment, while people on the road stopped cars and asked for any tools to help remove the rubble.
The government declared a “level 4 alarm” after the quake struck, calling for international assistance, but has not declared a state of emergency that would lead to mass mobilization of the military.
In Hatay’s provincial capital of Antakya, where 10-story buildings had crumbled on to the streets, Reuters journalists saw rescue work being carried out at one of the dozens of mounds of rubble.
“There are no emergency workers, no soldiers. Nobody. This is a neglected place,” said one man, who had traveled to Hatay from Ankara after managing to pull out a woman from the wreckage of a building on his own.
“This is a human life. What can you do when you hear a sound of life?” said the man, who declined to be named, as the woman received medical attention in a car.
The southern province of Hatay hosts more than 400,000 Syrians, mostly refugees from the country’s nearly 12-year civil war, according to the Turkish Interior Ministry.