(CNSNews.com) – U.S. assistance for Syrians affected in Monday’s powerful earthquake in Turkey will be channeled through “humanitarian partners,” not the Assad regime whose legitimacy the U.S. government does not recognize.
“It would be quite ironic, if not even counterproductive, for us to reach out to a government that has brutalized its people over the course of a dozen years now – gassing them, slaughtering them, being responsible for much of the suffering that they have endured,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said during a briefing on Monday.
“Instead, we have humanitarian partners on the ground who can provide the type of assistance in the aftermath of these tragic earthquakes,” he continued, noting that the agencies concerned “have been active on the ground since the earliest days of the civil war.”
Price was responding to a reporter who asked why the U.S. does not take the opportunity to “reach out to the Syrian government,” and who opined that doing so would be “a great gesture.”
“This is a regime,” Price said, “that has never shown any inclination to put the welfare, the well-being, the interests of its people first.”
“Now that its people are suffering even more, we’re going to continue doing what has proven effective over the course of the past dozen years or so – providing significant amounts of humanitarian assistance to partners on the ground. These partners, who unlike the Syrian regime, are there to help the people rather than brutalize them.”
Monday’s 7.8-magnitude quake and aftershocks occurred in southeastern Turkey, where according to the Associated Press the reported death toll was approaching 3,000. But across the border in Syria more than 600 deaths were reported in areas under control of the Assad regime and at least 450 in areas controlled by various rebel groups.
In U.S. announcements of assistance in response to the earthquake President Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and others have referred to sending assistance directly to Turkey – a NATO ally – but when it came to Syria they said aid would go through “U.S.-supported humanitarian partners.”
“We are committed to doing what we can on both sides of the border,” said Price. “In Turkey, we have a partner in the government; in Syria, we have a partner in the form of NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] on the ground who are providing humanitarian support.”
Russia, Iran, and Gulf states are among countries offering earthquake assistance to the regime.
Al-Mayadeen, a Lebanese newspaper sympathetic to the Assad regime and its allies Iran and Hezbollah, criticized the U.S. for seeking to direct assistance to Syrians through rebel-friendly NGOs, rather than Damascus.
It accused the U.S. of “selective humanity,” and expressed concern that other Western countries would follow its lead.
The newspaper said the “humanitarian partners” cited by Biden likely included NGOs that were “infamous for staging false attacks to implicate the Syrian government in crimes it has not committed.”
Al-Mayadeen was evidently alluding to the “White Helmets,” a volunteer rescue organization operating in rebel-held areas which the regime and its Russian allies have accused of staging chemical weapons attacks.
The group, formally known as Syria Civil Defense, is at the forefront of rescue efforts in the quake-affected areas of northwestern Syria.
It said in a statement more than 400 buildings had completely or partially collapsed in Aleppo and Idlib provinces, and the search for survivors in the rubble was ongoing. Its volunteers had rescued hundreds of people from the remains of toppled buildings and “are still working to rescue many more people who remain trapped.”
“There is an urgent need for additional search and rescue equipment, heavy equipment, spare parts and fuel due to the number of collapsed buildings and to the damage to existing equipment,” it said, calling for urgent support from humanitarian organizations and international donors.
The regime and Russia have for years accused the White Helmets of collaborating with terrorists, including by staging “false flag” chemical attacks designed to attract Western military strikes against the regime.
President Trump twice ordered cruise missile strikes on Assad regime targets – in April 2017 and April 2018 – after chemical attacks it blamed on the regime.
Just ten days ago, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons released an investigation team report finding that the Assad regime – not the White Helmets, as alleged by Damascus and Moscow – was responsible for a chemical attack on Douma in April 2018 that killed at least 43 people.
Russia and the Assad regime in a joint statement rejected what they called “another falsified report.”
The White Helmets welcomed the report, saying that it “vindicates the voices of survivors and witnesses of the attack and establishes the facts of the attack against false allegations and disinformation.”
The NGO said the findings “provide the facts in the face of Russia’s attempts to mislead world public opinion through disinformation campaigns, diplomatic moves, intimidation of witnesses, and the disruption of the work of U.N. committees and investigation teams.”