The death toll from the earthquakes in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria on Monday has reached unfathomable heights and is continuing to climb.
The Biden administration has pledged to help. In the case of Turkey, a NATO ally, U.S. assistance for recovery should be pretty straightforward. But, in Syria, the task of searching for bodies amid the rubble is especially daunting, as it comes after 12 years of war, a collapsed economy, decimated infrastructure and fuel shortages. Those conditions are further complicated by the enormous U.S. sanctions that are preventing direct aid from reaching people in need. Aid can only go through non-governmental organizations, and the only crossing those NGOs can use is through Turkey. Due to the initial earthquake and the tremors that followed, that path is currently unusable. The United Nations World Food Program has been relying on previously stored aid in Syria. That stockpile needs to be replenished and heavy equipment needs to get in so that the rubble can be moved.
FOR-USA is no apologist for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Assad regime has been accused of unthinkable human rights abuses, including the widespread and systematic use of chemical weapons, such as nerve gas and chlorine-filled bombs. According to Human Rights Watch, the intention of the Syrian military, at least in some of the attacks, was to hit civilians.
The conditions the Syrian people have had to endure are horrific and should not have come to be, but they are, and this is the reality we are in today. As clear as life under the Assad regime is, it is also clear that broad unilateral U.S. sanctions don’t produce their aims of regime change and reform.
“Our hearts are troubled by the death and devastation. I wish money would have been spent on building infrastructure rather than war. This horror and tragedy should wake the world up to the preciousness of life, and the waste through war,” said FOR-USA senior advisor Reverend Graylan Scott Hagler.
The International Crisis Group has long urged the U.S. to be strategic in its use of sanctions and provide “concrete and realistic” actions Syria can take for the lifting of sanctions. They have also noted that the Assad regime has long benefited from U.N. humanitarian aid to Syria, even beyond the problem of aid diversion. It is a difficult reality to deal with while addressing this most immediate crisis, but maintaining sanctions that harm people at a time like this cannot be part of our response.
Following the earthquakes on Monday, the Middle East Council of Churches urged countries to lift international sanctions immediately “so sanctions may not turn into a crime against humanity.”
We must address this crisis with moral clarity. As of January 2022, nine out of 10 Syrians were living in such abject poverty that they could not afford basic necessities like bread and milk. In 2020, almost a decade into Syria’s civil war — amid rubble, the emergence of warlords, a lack of infrastructure, corruption and a collapsed economy — the U.S. increased its Syria sanctions. It is in this context of an already urgent vital need for aid that a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Syria this week, followed just hours later by a 7.5 magnitude quake just 60 miles away.
As a Beloved Community that knows that all people are created in the image of G-d and believes in the Talmudic teaching, “whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” We call on our government to be as strategic and effective as possible in providing assistance. To this end, today we are calling on the U.S. Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control to urge them to immediately suspend the broad sanctions on Syria so that as much aid as possible can help the Syrian people.
Their contact information for them is below for people to call and or write to them.
U.S. Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control:
Snail mail: Office of Foreign Assets Control U.S. Department of the Treasury
Treasury Annex / Freedman’s Bank Building
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC, 20220
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