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Syria earthquake: National faith organisations urge US to lift sanctions

The letter was signed by 16 faith-based organisations and noted that they fear the response by the US to help quake victims will not go 'far enough'
A local resident stands in front of the collapsed buildings in Hatay on 15 February 2023 (AFP)

Over a dozen national faith-based organisations have signed a letter calling on the US to lift sanctions on Syria and expedite humanitarian assistance to facilitate earthquake response.

The 16 organisations, which include Churches for Middle East Peace, the American Friends Service Committee and the Alliance of Baptists, said they appreciate the "quick humanitarian response" by the Biden administration, but fear that it will not go far enough.

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"We call on the US government to urgently reconsider the use of broad based sanctions in Syria. Sanctions and their collateral effects have already caused Syrians dire harm," the letter states.

"The recent earthquakes will surely compound humanitarian needs in Syria, and US sanctions will continue to inhibit our work with our Syrian counterparts."

Two earthquakes with an epicentre in Turkey have so far killed more than 43,000 people and left a trail of destruction across a wide area of southern Turkey and neighbouring Syria. Tens of thousands of people have been injured or left homeless. 

The overall number of people affected by the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria could be 23 million or higher, according to preliminary assessments by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

On Thursday, 11 days after the earthquake, four people were rescued in Hatay and Antakya, including a 14-year-old boy. Rescue efforts are continuing as the focus has now shifted to providing survivors with food and water.

In the letter, the organisations are calling on Congress and the Biden administration to lift sanctions in order to expedite aid delivery, open commercial access, expand relief services and extend applicability for the newly adopted Global General License to all of Syria.

The US government argues that humanitarian work is exempt from sanctions and several experts argue the biggest hindrance to aid is logistical and unrelated to sanctions.

Additionally, the organisations are calling for the US government to coordinate the opening of banking channels to help NGOs deliver aid to where it's needed, and to appropriate additional funds to USAID and UN programmes to support Turkey and Syria.

"We as the faith community ask the Biden administration and Members of Congress to affirm the dignity of all persons by lifting sanctions, continuing diplomacy, and sending aid to those most affected in Turkey and Syria," the letter states.

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