Arab and Muslim Americans expand presence after Tuesday’s elections

Special Arab and Muslim Americans expand presence after Tuesday’s elections
Democratic state Sen. Erin Murphy speaks at the state Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Nov. 9, 2022, after Minnesota Democrats defied expectations in the election. (Report for America via AP)
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Updated 10 November 2022

Arab and Muslim Americans expand presence after Tuesday’s elections

Arab and Muslim Americans expand presence after Tuesday’s elections
  • 145 Muslim Americans were competing in election contests throughout the US and 29 American Muslims serve as state legislators in 18 states

CHICAGO: Republican candidates fell far short of the election sweep that GOP leaders had predicted would occur on Tuesday, but Arab and Muslim Americans increased their election presence in several US states.

Some Arab and Muslim candidates, from California to New Hampshire, faced stiff challenges while a few lost their election bids.

Here is an overview of how Arabs and Muslims performed in election contests in several key American states, based on unofficial results that were released by election authorities or tabulated by major media.

Popular American TV host and Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz failed in his bid to become Pennsylvania’s first Muslim-American member of the US Senate when he lost by a narrow margin to Democrat John Fetterman. However, Arab and Muslim candidates in Minnesota, Illinois, Louisiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, Florida and California won contests and strengthened their voices.

In Minnesota, Attorney General Keith Ellison held a narrow lead in his re-election bid to retain his title as the nation’s only Muslim attorney general against Republican Jim Schultz. With 95 percent of the votes counted, Ellison clings to a narrow but significant 20,000 vote lead in an election that drew more than 2.5 million votes.

“This election really was tough. Fear, division, the nasty commercials, millions of dollars spent just to sow hate, division and fear. And you know what, we overcame it. The votes are still being counted, but we will win this election,” Ellison told supporters early Wednesday morning, according to the Star Tribune Newspaper.

Ellison’s congressional colleague, US Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American Democrat, easily won re-election over Republican Cicely Davis, carrying 75.2 percent of the state’s votes in the 5th Congressional District.




US Rep. Ilhan Omar speaks to the crowd at the Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party's election night party in St. Paul, Minnesota, after winning reelection on Nov. 9, 2022. (AP)

In Illinois, voters elected Palestinian-Muslim Abdelnasser Rashid to represent the 21st Illinois House District with 65 percent of the votes. Rashid is the third Arab to win legislative office in Illinois, following in the footsteps of the late Jewish-Syrian American state representative and Cook County judge Miriam Dweck Balanoff, elected in 1978, and her son Clem Balanoff, elected to the Illinois House in 1993.

Rashid came from behind to defeat seven-term incumbent state representative Michael J. Zalewski in the June 2022 Illinois Democratic primary by only 255 votes in the heavily Democratic district. Zalewski, whose father was an influential former Chicago alderman, was seen as being unbeatable by Democrats, having served in the Illinois General Assembly since 2008.

Rashid told Arab News: “I am humbled and privileged to have the trust of the voters of the 21st District, who are sending me to Springfield to be a voice for working and middle-class families. I am also honored that Arab Americans throughout Illinois will have a voice in Springfield — someone who understands the community and who will fight for them.”

Also winning a seat in the Illinois State General Assembly is Democrat and Indian-American Muslim Nabeela Syed who defeated a Republican challenger, Chris Bos, to represent the 51st Illinois State House District.




Nabeela Syed

Lebanese-American Congressman Darin LaHood, a Republican Christian, won re-election in Illinois to the 16th Congressional District, defeating challenger and Democrat Elizabeth Haderlein with 65 percent of the vote.

“I am committed to continuing to stand up for what people in my district believe in,” LaHood told supporters on election night according to WCBU Radio. “And that’s good conservative values.”

In Louisiana, Republican Congressman Garret Graves, whose mother Cynthia Sliman is a Christian-Lebanese American, won re-election on Tuesday in the 6th Congressional District with 80 percent of the vote, defeating libertarian rival Rufus Craig.

Democrat Sami Scheetz, whose mother Hala is a Syrian-American immigrant, won the election to become Iowa’s first Arab-American state legislator, representing the 78th State House District. Scheetz defeated Republican Anne Fairchild with 67 percent of the votes cast.

In Michigan, it was no surprise that Congresswoman Palestinian Muslim Rashida Tlaib was re-elected to her third term in a landslide, winning 73.7 percent of the votes to represent the new 12th Congressional District over Republican challenger Steven Elliot.




Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib (Getty Images/AFP)

Dozens of Arab and Muslim Americans competed for statewide, county and municipal offices in Michigan, although votes in several races continue to be counted.

Democrat Sam Baydoun was re-elected to the 13th Wayne County Commission with 64 percent of the vote over Republican Ann F. Clark.

Lebanese-American Democrat Alabas Farhat won the race for state representative in the 3rd District over Republican Ginger Shearer. Incumbent Democrat and Yemeni-American Abraham Aiyash won re-election to the 9th District State House seat, defeating Republican Michele Lundgren.

Arab-American Dennis Denno, whose parents are from Iraq, won his election to fill a vacant seat on the Michigan State University board of trustees.

In New Hampshire, Republican Lebanese and Palestinian American Governor Chris Sununu won re-election with 55 percent of the vote over Democrat Tom Sherman with 57 percent of the votes cast. His father, John Sununu, previously served as governor and US senator in New Hampshire and also as chief of staff to former president George H.W. Bush.




Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire state is of Lebanese and Palestinian ancestry. (AP)

Arab Americans had mixed results in Florida where Democrat Charlie Crist, who is of Greek and Lebanese descent, lost his bid to unseat Governor Ron DeSantis, one of the country’s most powerful Republicans who is believed to be a possible contender for president in 2024.

Crist lost to DeSantis, receiving 40 percent or 3.1 million of the more than 7.75 million votes cast in the election.

In California, Republican Syrian-Lebanese Christian Darrell Issa easily won re-election in the new 48th Congressional District over Democrat Stephen Houlahan with 60 percent of the votes cast.

And longtime Democratic Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, who is Assyrian and Armenian, was leading Rishi Kumar in California’s 16th Congressional District with 58 percent of only half of the district’s votes counted by Wednesday morning. Assyrians trace their ancestry to the Ottoman Empire and Iraq. Eshoo has held the seat since 1993.

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By Numbers

Muslims, including many Arab Americans, had a much stronger presence in Tuesday’s elections.

According to the Council on American Islamic Relations and Jetpac Resource Center, 145 Muslim Americans were competing in election contests throughout the US and 29 American Muslims serve as state legislators in 18 states.

Five Arab Americans have been elected to the nation’s highest legislative office, as US senators. They include:

  • James Abourezk (Lebanese), representing South Dakota
  • George Mitchell (Lebanese), representing Maine
  • James Abdnor (Lebanese), representing South Dakota
  • Spencer Abraham (Lebanese), representing Michigan
  • John E. Sununu (Lebanese and Palestinian), representing New Hampshire.

Arabs in Congress

There have been 28 Arab or Middle East Americans who have held seats in the US Congress since 1959 when George A. Kasem was first elected to represent California for one term. Six Arab and Middle East Americans continue to serve in the US House of Representatives:

  • Anna Eshoo, California, Assyrian American
  • Darrell Issa, California, Syrian-Lebanese American
  • Garrett Graves, Louisiana, Lebanese
  • Darin LaHood, Illinois, Lebanese
  • Ilhan Omar, Minnesota, Somali
  • Rashida Tlaib, Michigan, Palestinian

Arabs by state population, 2019 *

  • California  324,000
  • Michigan   223,000
  • New York   152,000
  • Texas    124,000
  • Florida   112,000
  • Illinois    111,000
  • New Jersey  108,000
  • Virginia   79,482
  • Ohio    77,096
  • Pennsylvania 75,821
  • Massachusetts 70,683

* (SourcesArab American Institute’s data on demographicsStatista.com)

(Note: The US Census does not include “Arab” or “Muslim” as a category but Americans can voluntarily write their ethnicity, origin or religion on their census forms.)


UAE rescue team saves Syrian family trapped under rubble in Turkiye

UAE rescue team saves Syrian family trapped under rubble in Turkiye
Updated 11 sec ago

UAE rescue team saves Syrian family trapped under rubble in Turkiye

UAE rescue team saves Syrian family trapped under rubble in Turkiye
  • The mother and her children were rescued in an operation that lasted more than five hours

DUBAI: An Emirati rescue team have pulled a Syrian family of four from under the rubble of their home in Turkiye after two devastating earthquakes killed more than 16,000 people.  

The mother and her children, who lived in Kahramanmaras province, the closest city to the quake’s epicenter, were rescued in an operation that lasted more than five hours, Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.

They received immediate healthcare before being transferred to the hospital for further treatment.

The rescue was part of the “Gallant Knight/2” operation that the UAE launched earlier this week to aid those impacted by the earthquakes in southern Turkiye and Syria.

Earlier, the UAE pledged $100 million aid to the two impacted countries, sending relief flights to help with the search and rescue operations and supply urgent aid to those in need.

The UAE rescue teams on Wednesday also evacuated three injured Emirati citizens from quake-hit Turkiye.

The operation was carried out in coordination with the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Ministry of Defense.

Countries around the world have rushed to send aid and rescue workers to save people impacted by the earthquakes, which flattened thousands of buildings and left thousands homeless.

Rescue operations continue as hope started to fade in finding more survivors amid freezing winter temperatures.


Turkiye, Syria rescue hopes fade, anger rising as death toll passes 16,000

Turkiye, Syria rescue hopes fade, anger rising as death toll passes 16,000
The death toll topped 15,000 early on Thursday, thousands more injured or missing. (AFP)
Updated 09 February 2023

Turkiye, Syria rescue hopes fade, anger rising as death toll passes 16,000

Turkiye, Syria rescue hopes fade, anger rising as death toll passes 16,000
  • Erdogan admits Turkiye response ‘inadequate’ but insist it was improving
  • Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief opens air bridge to bring medicine, food to survivors

ANKARA: The death toll from the Turkiye-Syria earthquakes passed 16,000  Thursday as hope faded of finding more survivors among the rubble of devastated towns and villages.

Across a swathe of southern Turkiye, people sought temporary shelter and food in freezing winter weather, and waited in anguish by piles of rubble where family and friends might still lie buried.

Rescuers were still finding some people alive. But many Turks have complained of a lack of equipment, expertise and support to rescue those trapped — sometimes even as they could hear cries for help.

Authorities have only reached 2-3 percent of collapsed buildings in some affected areas, sources said.

“Where is the state? Where have they been for two days? We are begging them. Let us do it, we can get them out,” Sabiha Alinak said near a snow-covered collapsed building in the city of Malatya where her young relatives were trapped.

In Antakya, dozens of bodies, some covered in blankets and sheets and others in body bags, were lined up on the ground outside a hospital. One survivor, Melek, 64, said she had seen no rescue teams. “We survived the earthquake, but we will die here from hunger or cold.”

There were similar scenes in northern Syria, which was also hard hit by Monday’s two huge quakes. Syria’s ambassador to the UN admitted the regime in Damascus had a “lack of capabilities and lack of equipment,” which he blamed on Western sanctions.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan admitted that his government’s initial response to the disaster had been inadequate, but insisted it was improving.

“We will be better tomorrow and later. We still have some issues with fuel ... but we will overcome those too,” Erdogan said on a visit to Kahramanmaras to view the damage and see the rescue and relief effort.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan toured the site of destroyed buildings during his visit to the city of Kahramanmaras. (AFP)

Entire streets in Kahramanmaras, closest city to the quake’s epicenter, were reduced to rubble, with plumes of smoke rising from fires. Hundreds of tents were set up as shelter in a sports stadium. About 50 bodies draped in blankets lay on the floor of a sports hall.

Death toll sure to rise

As search and rescue operations continued, the World Health Organization warned that the final death toll could exceed 20,000.

A similar earthquake in the region in 1999 killed at least 17,000 people.

Turkish officials say some 13.5 million people were affected in an area spanning roughly 450 km from Adana in the west to Diyarbakir in the east. In Syria, people were killed as far south as Hama, 250 km from the epicenter.

Some who died in Turkiye were refugees from Syria’s war. Their body bags arrived at the border in taxis, vans and piled atop flatbed trucks to be taken to final resting places in their homeland.

More than 298,000 people have been made homeless and 180 shelters for the displaced had been opened, Syrian state media reported, apparently referring to areas under government control, and not held by opposition factions.

In Syria, relief efforts are complicated by a conflict that has partitioned the nation and wrecked its infrastructure.

The delivery of UN humanitarian aid via Turkiye to millions of people in northwest Syria could resume on Thursday after the long-running operation was halted by the quake, UN officials said.

In the Syrian city of Aleppo, staff at the Al-Razi hospital attended to an injured man who said more than a dozen relatives including his mother and father were killed when the building they were in collapsed.

Press for aid

Syrian President Bashar Assad appears to be seeking political advantage from the quake, pressing for foreign aid to be delivered through his territory as he aims to chip away at his international isolation, analysts said.

A US-based NGO, Global Empowerment Mission, mobilized about $10 million of relief aid in the past 24 hours for earthquake victims.

On Wednesday, Erdogan visited affected Turkiye regions to inspect quake damage and speak to survivors.

“Initially, 10,000 Turkish liras ($500) will be allocated to each citizen affected by the earthquake,” he said.

In the wake of the disaster, search and rescue workers, as well as medics, have arrived in Turkiye and Syria from all corners of the globe.

Turkish municipalities have deployed hundreds of their own rescue personnel.

 

 

Though domestic rescue efforts have been criticized as insufficient by local residents, the rapid international response to the disaster has been praised.

Saudi Arabia’s leadership directed the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center to operate an air bridge, bringing medical supplies, shelter, food and logistical assistance to victims.

A UN emergency fund allocated $25 million to the humanitarian response in the region.

Despite a growing diplomatic crisis between Greece and Turkiye, Greek TV opened a morning news session with images and videos from the quake zone, with lyrics from a folk song in the background saying: “I let the whole world know that I love you.”

The rubble of toppled buildings in Hatay village. (Supplied)

Several refugee children were also rescued by firefighters and mine workers on Tuesday, while a “miracle” newborn baby was dragged from rubble in northern Syria.

Turkiye’s Association for Solidarity with Asylum-Seekers and Migrants has sent a team of 300 workers and volunteers to Antakya and Hatay, as well as translators and rescue dogs. Migrant survivors will be offered psychological support through the association.

Baris Sakir, an Urfa resident, survived the quake thanks to the modern design of his home.

“However, there are still some cracks inside the house and we don’t have the courage to go back inside. We are now living in the fine arts school where I was teaching piano lessons. My little son still faces post-trauma,” he told Arab News.

Restaurants and hotels are offering free meals and accommodation to those left homeless by the earthquake, with Turkish celebrities and municipalities sending food containers to locals as well as paying for their accommodation.

Meanwhile, Istanbul municipality intervened to stop a fire in Iskenderun port on Wednesday, while Ankara municipality started repairs on damaged Hatay airport. Communication channels have been significantly disrupted by the quake.

In Hatay, more than 2,000 buildings were destroyed, with just 2-3 percent being reached by rescuers, according to the latest reports.

The dead are being held in makeshift morgues in sports halls. (AFP)

Authorities have warned that growing numbers of rescued children have been left unaccompanied in local hospitals, with precautions being taken to prevent abductions.

“Nature gave us exactly 23 years after the 1999 earthquake,” said Cem Say, a prominent Turkish computer scientist, referring to the major quake in the country’s northwest in 1999.

Last year, Turkey spent about $1.3 billion on programs for disaster management — some 0.5 percent of central government budgetary spending. But experts have described the funding as insufficient.

Ismail Yolcu, a survivor of the earthquake in southeastern Adiyaman province, said that the homes of some relatives were completely destroyed.

He told Arab News: “There is no electricity. There is no heating. It is rainy and extremely cold. We are sleeping in the streets. We are waiting for the tents to be established. But the situation is terrible.”

Sermet Cuhadar, president of the Journalists Association in Kahramanmaras, said that the situation had “slightly improved” in the province.

“We had to drink melted ice because there was no water in the city. Our eight-storey building collapsed during the first quake. Fortunately I was not in the building at that time. Only three people were rescued,” he told Arab News.

The hope of finding more survivors reduces with every hour. (AFP)

Kamil Cuhadar, former mayor of Pazarcik village of Kahramanmaras, suffered a fractured skull during the first quake when a stone fell on his head.

“The supportive columns were strong in the building in Pazarcik. However, there is no standing building left in the village. The rescue efforts were insufficient.

“They began today in the early morning, but it is already too late. The weather is so cold, it was minus 7 degrees Celsius yesterday when everybody was lying on the streets.

“There is no sufficient equipment to remove the debris. There is no lifting instrument,” he told Arab News.

There are reports that the government of Turkiye has blocked Twitter in some areas. (Supplied)

Naile Islek, from Dulkadiroglu village in Kahramanmaras, saw her neighbor’s home collapse during the quake, and ran to take shelter in her mother’s house.

“We have electricity but still no water. Some people who benefit from this chaos are selling small bottles of water at double and sometimes triple prices. We didn’t have enough equipment to remove the debris. Men could barely remove it with their hands,” she told Arab News.

Several municipalities from western Turkiye sent mobile kitchens and container pharmacies to the disaster zone, and launched programs to distribute biscuits, bread and medicine to survivors.

Several sources told Arab News that the immediate rescue efforts were “minimal,” but have intensified in the last two days.

Volunteers have attempted to fill the manpower gap, while several prominent activists as well as chefs have traveled to affected regions to help local residents.

Tent cities were established in several regions while commando forces were deployed to the earthquake zone to aid in rescue efforts. 

In the wake of the disaster, Turkiye’s stock exchange also suspended trading for the first time in 24 years.

(With agencies)


Iranian prosecutors covered up rapes by Revolutionary Guards, official document shows

Iranian prosecutors covered up rapes by Revolutionary Guards, official document shows
Updated 09 February 2023

Iranian prosecutors covered up rapes by Revolutionary Guards, official document shows

Iranian prosecutors covered up rapes by Revolutionary Guards, official document shows
  • Two members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps sexually abused two women who were arrested in September during the public protests in the country
  • The author wrote that ‘considering the problematic nature of the case’ and the risk of social media leaks ‘it is recommended the necessary order (is) issued for it to be filed top secret’

DUBAI: Iranian state prosecutors stand accused of covering up rapes by two members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

According to an internal judicial document, the IRGC members allegedly raped two women, ages 18 and 23, in a van in Tehran last September, The Guardian newspaper reported on Wednesday. They had been detained during the protests that began that month following the death of Mahsa Amini after she was arrested by Iran’s “morality police.” The women were accused of acting suspiciously and their phones were examined for any evidence that they had taken part in the protests.

The judicial document was reportedly initially leaked to news channel Iran International by hacktivist group Edalat-e Ali (Ali’s Justice). It is the first internal document to surface and expose a specific case of this kind, although activists have long suspected that some female detainees were sexually abused by security officials during the protests.

Dated Oct. 13, 2022, the document was written by Mohammad Shahriari, the deputy prosecutor and head of the prosecutor’s office in Tehran, and addressed to Ali Salehi, the general and revolution prosecutor. A report on a collection of witness statements, it states that two named women were assaulted by two named male security officials.

The case came to the attention of prosecutors after one of the IRGC officers called one of the victims after the assault. She recorded the conversation and filed a complaint. The officer initially denied the charges but later changed his story to claim the women had consented to sex. He reportedly was detained, with his father, at their home in Tehran. The other accused officer was arrested separately and taken to a police intelligence unit prison.

The report details how the two men eventually admitted having intercourse with the women, which the document describes as rape. The first officer said they had detained the two women near a gas station while deployed on Sattarkhan Street in western Tehran. The officers initially took them to the Revolutionary Guard’s headquarters but left when they were told it was not possible to process the accused women there.

The document continues: “Considering the problematic nature of the case, the possibility of the leaking of this information into social media and its misrepresentation by enemy groups, it is recommended that the necessary order (is) issued for it to be filed top secret.

“Since no complaint has been registered and the defendants have been dismissed, the accused should be dismissed without mentioning their names.”

It added the case should be closed without any reference to the military institution involved.


Drones and high tech help in disaster search missions 

Drones and high tech help in disaster search missions 
Updated 09 February 2023

Drones and high tech help in disaster search missions 

Drones and high tech help in disaster search missions 
  • Can modern developments provide solutions, relief to earthquake-hit Turkiye, Syria?

RIYADH: The world continues to watch in despair the devastation caused by two earthquakes — measuring 7.8 and 7.5 on the Richter scale  — that struck southeastern Turkiye and Syria early on Monday morning.

With the combined death toll surpassing 11,000 people by Wednesday, international aid agencies, humanitarian groups, military forces, government and private sector bodies have all been involved in providing help to the regions.

One area supplying some answers has been modern technology.

Drones, which are increasingly known for their role as weapons in modern warfare, are also useful tools during natural disasters such as earthquakes.

“Drones for sure play an important role in Turkiye as we speak,” Henk Jan Gerzee, chief product officer at the Digital Container Shipping Association, told Arab News during the LEAP conference in Riyadh on Wednesday.

Gerzee, who was on the panel looking at “Drones and Autonomous Vehicles,” added: “Firstly, drones can provide a clearer picture of what has happened.

“Drones are equipped with ultra-high-definition cameras. They can also be equipped with heat sensors and detection, and thus detect people.

“They can deliver medicine and smaller pieces of cargo. They can also detect dangerous gases, like methane.” 

Dr. Jassim Haji, president of the Artificial Intelligence Society, who also took part in the discussion, underlined the role AI can play in such disasters, including forecasting extreme events, developing hazard maps, and assisting in situational awareness and decision support.

NASA technology can help in hearing the heartbeats of individuals trapped under debris and rubble. Its technology has frequently been used in the aftermath of earthquakes.

In 2015 the NASA FINDER tool was able to locate four men buried underneath mud, brick, wood and other debris following an earthquake in the Nepalese village of Chautara.

The same technology was also used in 2017 during an earthquake measuring 7.1 in Mexico City.

The UN utilized its emergency mapping satellite service, a live map that shows in real time the damage caused by an earthquake and its level of impact, within hours on Monday.

However, political conflict can have the last word when it comes to getting aid quickly to regions hit by natural disasters.

A resident in northeastern Syria, who spoke to Arab News on condition of anonymity, said: “The main issue is that aid has become politicized, so even if this tech is available, it is likely it won’t reach these areas.”

Roj Mousa, a Syrian journalist from Afrin, told Arab News: “All of our friends and relatives are under the rubble now in Afrin and Jindires.

“I haven’t had a moment to rest since the earthquake happened. I speak with my relatives all the time.

“There is no aid coming to these areas — no water, no food, no rescue. The cities are now further devastated.

“The people helping to pull out the rubble are civilians doing so with their bare hands.

“All the aid is being blocked by members of the Turkish-controlled Syrian militia.”

Mousa added that small cameras used by doctors to see inside the rubble were helpful, but getting such technology into occupied areas was difficult.
 


Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief raises millions with earthquake appeal for Turkiye and Syria

Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief raises millions with earthquake appeal for Turkiye and Syria
Updated 09 February 2023

Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief raises millions with earthquake appeal for Turkiye and Syria

Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief raises millions with earthquake appeal for Turkiye and Syria
  • A magnitude 7.8 quake struck in the early hours of Monday, sparking an international humanitarian response 
  • King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman directed KSrelief to establish aid delivery flights 

RIYADH/QAMISHLI: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, also known as KSrelief, has launched a fundraising campaign through the “Sahem” platform to help those affected by the massive earthquake in Syria and Turkiye, the center announced on Wednesday.

Even before KSrelief announced its official fundraiser, Saudi donations to the aid effort had already exceeded SR13 million ($3.5 million), Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Rabeeah, KSrelief’s supervisor general, told Arab News.

KSrelief chief Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah (R) and Sheikh Saad Al-Shathri, a member of the Saudi Council of Senior Scholars, leading the launch of the Kingdom's aid campaign for victims of the Turkiye-Syria earthquake. (Twitter: @KSrelief)

As of Wednesday night, hundreds of thousands of donors had contributed approximately SR65.9 million.

The magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck parts of southeastern Turkiye, northwestern Syria and neighboring areas in the early hours of Monday, followed by a magnitude 7.5 quake hours later. More than 11,000 people are known to have died and tens of thousands have been injured.

In the two days since the catastrophe, aid workers have struggled to reach remote parts of both countries. In many areas, rescuers have been digging through rubble with their bare hands in the fading hope of finding more survivors.

“Until now, not one gram of aid has arrived here,” Roj Mousa, a journalist from northern Syrian city of Afrin, told Arab News.

According to the International Rescue Committee, Turkiye’s Bab Al-Hawa, the only border crossing through which UN humanitarian aid is allowed into northern Syria, has been closed as a result of damage sustained in the earthquake. As the bulk of the aid entering Syria must pass through Damascus, which strictly controls its distribution to governorates, the closure of Bab Al-Hawa has made it even harder to deliver adequate and timely aid to the hardest-hit areas.

Earthquake victims are rushed to the emergency ward of the Bab al-Hawa hospital in Syria's Idlib province on the border with Turkey early on Feb. 6, 2023. (AFP)

“We are trying to buy some food, water, blankets, tents and other aid and send it to (the people in Afrin),” said Mousa. “They are all sleeping outside, not inside buildings. The main problem now is that after a week, when the rubble is cleared, they must rebuild. In Jinderis, the second-largest city in the Afrin region, 90 percent of people are sleeping in the bush.”

Mousa estimates that between 800 and 900 people lost their lives in Jinderis alone. To the south, in rebel-held Idlib, the situation is not much better.

“There are many people still trapped under buildings. We are in need of all types of aid,” Mohammed Yazji, a journalist from Idlib, told Arab News.

According to Syria Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, more than 1,500 people were killed and at least 4,200 injured in Idlib, and the toll is expected to rise.

Syrian rescuers (White Helmets) search for casualties in the rubble of a building destroyed by an earthquake in Syria's Idlib province on the border with Turkey early on February 6, 2023. (AFP)

“We have been displaced to Iwaa Camp,” said Yazji. “Only local NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) have provided aid so far. No international aid organizations have helped us.

“We wish international rescue teams would come because the situation here is very difficult and we are working properly but the load is more than we can handle.”

The World Health Organization said rescuers face a race against time not only to save lives but to ensure the injured survive in dire circumstances.

Robert Holden, the WHO’s earthquake-response incident manager, said the immediate focus was on saving lives but it is also “imperative to make sure that those who survived the initial disaster … continue to survive.”

Speaking during a press conference in Geneva, he said: “We’ve got a lot of people who have survived now out in the open, in worsening and horrific conditions,” adding that access to clean water, fuel, electricity and communications has been disrupted.

People warm up with fire in front of destroyed buildings in Antakya, southern Turkey, on Feb. 8, 2023. (AP)

“We are in real danger of seeing a secondary disaster which may cause harm to more people than the initial disaster if we don’t move with the same pace and intensity as we are doing on the search and rescue,” he warned. “This is no easy task … The scale of the operation is massive.”

Several countries have pledged aid to Turkiye and Syria. Croatia, Poland, Switzerland, India, the UK and Greece have sent rescue teams, search dogs, and firefighters to Turkiye to aid the rescue efforts.

The US is sending assistance to Turkiye and working with humanitarian agencies to deliver aid to Syria. Even Lebanon, which is grappling with its own protracted economic crisis, has sent soldiers and first responders to Turkiye. Jordan is sending aid to both Turkiye and Syria, while New Zealand and China’s Red Cross are providing the Syrian Arab Red Crescent with humanitarian and financial assistance.

A woman sits on the rubble as emergency rescue teams search for people under the remains of destroyed buildings in Nurdagi town on the outskirts of Osmaniye city southern Turkey, on Feb. 7, 2023. (AP)

Saudi Arabia has also stepped up to fill aid gaps and deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance to both countries.

Al-Rabeeah, KSrelief’s general supervisor, told Arab News: “We launched the national donation campaign and we appeal to donors, male and female, businessmen and individuals, to contribute effectively to alleviating the suffering of those affected by the earthquake in Syria and Turkiye.

“I say to every donor, every riyal that is donated will have an impact on alleviating (the suffering of) an injured person, either a wounded or a broken person, or a person (in need of) rescue.

 

 

“We are counting on this aid and this support and donations to implement very important programs that will save the lives of hundreds or thousands of people and, God willing, it will return with goodness, blessing and reward for everyone who contributes and donates.”

Donations can be made through the Sahem platform or through the various channels offered on the KSrelief website. Donations through Sahem are exclusively accepted as monetary funds, and KSrelief deducts no administrative fees, so 100 percent of donations go to beneficiaries.

KSrelief has already started to secure food parcels to send to those in need. On Tuesday, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman directed the organization to establish an aid corridor to deliver health, shelter, food and logistical supplies to Syria and Turkiye.

KSrelief has also teams of medics with vast experience serving refugees from Syria and Yemen over the past few years. (SPA file photo)

King Salman also ordered the deployment of rapid intervention teams and emergency medical aid, as well as a Saudi volunteer delegation.

“We cannot help but thank the teams that contributed to this noble work, especially the field teams, whether from the General Directorate of Civil Defense in the Ministry of Interior, or from the Saudi Red Crescent Authority, or the experienced cadres of KSrelief, or the volunteers who took the initiative to register with the center to provide urgent medical and health services,” Al-Rabeeah told Arab News.

Saad bin Nasser Al-Shathri, an advisor to the Royal Court and a member of the Council of Senior Scholars and the permanent committee of Ifta, praised the Sahem campaign for its efforts to help meet the massive humanitarian needs in Syria and Turkiye, and reiterated that previous Saudi fundraisers helped many peoples and countries in crisis.

 

 

Since it was founded in 2015, KSrelief has aided struggling communities and nations around the globe, including Syria, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The latest fundraising campaign is an extension of its earlier work in support of the Syrian people.

In December last year, KSrelief provided $6 million to Syrian refugees living in camps in Jordan, through the UN’s World Food Program, which helped meet the food needs of more than 50,000 Syrians.

“The Saudi humanitarian efforts are not associated with any political affairs or any political, religious or military agendas, as was made clear by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in the center’s opening speech,” said Al-Rabeeah.

“The center has continued to support the people of Syria in alleviating the suffering of Syrian communities, without ties to any specific agendas. Our concern is with the injured, regardless of any political ties.”

Saudi humanitarian aid has long transcended political barriers. In October last year, the Kingdom announced a $400 million humanitarian aid package for Ukraine, while calling for a peaceful resolution to the conflict there, which has been raging since the Russian invasion a year ago.

A Saudia cargo plane unloads food and shelter aid at Sudan's Khartoum airport as part of a humanitarian air bridge from Saudi Arabia for flooding victims in the north African country in August 2022. (SPA file photo)

KSrelief has played a leading role in international aid initiatives during past disasters, most significantly for the people of Lebanon in the wake of the Aug. 4, 2020, Beirut port explosion that killed more than 215 people, injured more than 6,500 and displaced about 300,000. The Kingdom sent two aircraft carrying 120 tons of medical and emergency supplies.

KSrelief also recently sent two flights to Sudan carrying food and shelter aid for those affected by last year’s floods. It also aided India’s COVID-19 response by sending an additional 60 tons of oxygen, adding to an initial 80-ton delivery to the South Asian nation.

In a telephone call on Wednesday with Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, Hussein Ibrahim Taha, the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, offered his condolences on behalf of the organization and its member states, and expressed his sympathy for the victims.

Donations for the Turkiye and Syria earthquake relief effort can be made through the Sahem platform using the following link: sahem.ksrelief.org/SYTR, or by direct transfer to the campaign’s bank account.