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Syria: EU conference to raise funds for quake victims 'theatrical'

Members of the Algerian rescue team and Syrian army soldiers search for survivors at the site of a damaged building, in the aftermath of the earthquake in Aleppo, Syria, on February 8, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

Syria has strongly denounced as “theatrical” an international conference in Brussels to purportedly raise funds for the victims of last month's devastating earthquake, stating that the United States and its Western allies would rather lift sanctions on the crisis-hit Arab country than to organize such sham events.

“Any improvement in the living conditions of the quake victims in Syria requires the immediate and unconditional abolition of coercive measures and collective punishment policies imposed on the Syrian nation,” Syria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates said in a statement released late on Monday.

It went on to decry the exclusion of representatives from the Damascus government from the International Donors’ Conference in the Belgian capital, where participants pledged to provide 6.05 billion euros ($6.48 billion) in grants and loans for Turkey and 950 million euros ($1.018 billion) for Syria.

“The purported aid for earthquake victims in Syria comes as no delegate from the Syrian government was present in the conference, and no coordination was made with officials from the country where the natural disaster has claimed thousands of lives and displaced millions,” the statement highlighted.

“The organizers of the conference even ruled out the participation of prominent Syrian humanitarian organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the event,” the Syrian foreign ministry said.

“Such a behavior of the organizers of the conference, and politicization of humanitarian and development issues are in continuation of the unlawful, inhumane and immoral sanctions that Western governments have slapped against the entire Syrian nation, among them the people affected by the recent disaster,” the statement read.

“These coercive measures have prevented supply of relief and rescue materials to quake victim in Syria,” it added, dismissing as “spurious” the US and European allegations of exemption of food and medicine from all sanctions.

The Syrian foreign ministry also said that American occupation forces continue to plunder Syrian energy resources without paying any attention to the urgent needs of earthquake victims, notably shelters, healthcare and utility services.

“The message of Syrians to the organizes of the Brussels conference and its participants is that any improvement in the living conditions of quake-affected people would happen in light of the required political will as well as the immediate and unconditional removal of anti-Syria sanctions,” the statement said.

Syria has been reeling under Western sanctions since 1979. The US and its Western allies imposed more such sanctions after 2011 when the country found itself in the grip of rampant foreign-backed militancy and terrorism.

The coercive measures intensified even further with Washington passing the Caesar Act in 2019, which targeted individuals and businesses that participated either directly or indirectly in Syria's reconstruction efforts.

The restrictive measures have blocked imports of essential goods, affecting the Syrian people’s access to medical equipment, food, heating, gas, and electricity. The sanctions have effectively cut Syria off from the global economy, leaving it dependent on a handful of allied states such as Russia and Iran.

Earlier this month, Syria's foreign minister denounced the politicization of humanitarian response to the devastating earthquake that struck the Arab country recently, saying it failed to prick the conscience of some countries who pretend to advocate human rights.

Faisal Mekdad made the remarks in a video speech to the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council on March 2 as Syria continued to grapple with the aftermath of the earthquake that hit the country and neighboring Turkey on February 6, leaving more than 50,000 people dead on both sides.

“The catastrophe of the earthquake that struck Syria has deepened the harsh conditions the country has been going through for twelve years. It added grave challenges and doubled the suffering of the Syrians," Mekdad said in his speech.

"The Syrian Government quickly launched an emergency response plan at the national level to address the repercussions of the disaster, and appealed to countries and international organizations to support the affected areas."

The top Syrian diplomat stressed that the illegal blockade has caused enormous humanitarian suffering and undermined basic human rights, including the right of the Syrian people to life, decent living, health, education and development in all forms.

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