(CNSNews.com) – As countries scramble to support rescue and aid efforts in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria, the tragedy resulting from Monday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake has provided opportunities for some unlikely offers of assistance in a region marked by long-held, deep hostilities.
Greece was quick to offer condolences and concrete help to Turkey, its neighbor and traditional rival, setting aside significant tensions over territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea and exploratory drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Greece deployed a military transporter with firefighters specializing in search and rescue, rescue dogs, medical personnel, and medical and humanitarian supplies to the quake-hit area, where many are feared to be trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call Athens was ready to contribute further relief.
Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias also ordered an emergency contribution to the U.N. humanitarian affairs agency, for relief efforts in both Turkey and Syria.
The Greek newspaper Ekathimerini reported that Erdogan had thanked Mitsotakis for Greece’s solidarity and the immediate assistance.
Over recent months, Erdogan and his Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu have directed veiled threats towards Greece, hinting at a Turkish military response to Greek military exercises and territorial claims in disputed waters. Greece has responded angrily to the threats.
Turkey also received immediate help from Israel, with the Israeli Defense Forces dispatching a search and rescue team and a 130-strong army and civilian delegation to bring medical, humanitarian, and other assistance.
Erdogan is an outspoken champion of the Palestinian cause, and has long supported Hamas, the terrorist group that controls Gaza. Relations between Turkey and Israel have undergone a rollercoaster ride over recent decades, but are currently on an improving trajectory.
Messages of solidarity and condolences to the Turkish people, posted on social media by Israeli government officials, diplomats, and citizens, elicited a flood of appreciative responses from Turks.
Israel has earned a reputation of quickly deploying world-class IDF search and rescue teams to the scenes of disasters, including earthquakes in countries like Haiti, Mexico, the Philippines – and Turkey on previous occasions.
The latest mission, nicknamed “Olive Branch,” will be the 30th of its kind since 1982, and its leader, Col. Golan Vach, said it was “an honor to help our friends in Turkey.”
Natural disasters have brought foes closer together in the past: Greece and Turkey helped each other after both were hit by earthquakes in 1999 and in 2005 India send aid to its traditional rival Pakistan, after an earthquake struck both countries, but with Pakistan particularly hard hit.
The U.S. and Britain both sent help to Iran following the Bam earthquake in 2003; Israel also offered to send its rescue squad but the regime in Tehran refused the offer.
Although the Monday earthquake’s epicenter was in southeastern Turkey, parts of nearby Syria have also been hard-hit, both in areas held by rebels and those under the control of the Assad regime.
The Associated Press reported a rising death toll of more than 4,000 people, including almost 3,000 in Turkey, more than 650 in areas of Syria under control of Damascus, and at least 450 in Syrian areas held by rebels.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Monday that alongside the aid to Turkey he has also approved sending help to Syria, after receiving an indirect request for assistance, via “a diplomatic official.”
Israeli media outlets cited officials as saying the request came via Russia, which is a close ally of the Assad regime.
Israel and Syria have been at war since the State of Israel’s establishment in 1948. In the context of the Syrian civil war the IDF has carried out frequent airstrikes inside Syria, targeting Iranian arms deliveries destined for Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon. The terrorist group and sworn foe of Israel is, like its mentor in Tehran, an ally of the Assad regime.
A Lebanese newspaper linked to Hezbollah, Al-Mayadeen, quoted an unnamed Assad regime official as heatedly disputing Netanyahu’s claim that Syria had requested Israeli help.
If Netanyahu had received such a request regarding Syria, the official said, it would certainly have been from his “friends and allies” in terrorist groups – a reference to the array of anti-regime rebels, some of whom are jihadists, in northern Syria.
“The occupation entity [Israel] is the cause of woes, wars and tensions in the region, and is the last one who has the right to talk about providing aid and assistance,” said the official, accusing Israel of exploiting the earthquake “to mislead public opinion and cover up the expansionist and aggressive policies.”