Skip to main content

Turkey-Syria earthquake: This is not about Assad. Syrians simply need aid

Rather than focusing on Syrian victims, the US is caught up in rhetoric over the need to isolate the Syrian president
Earthquake victims receive treatment at the al-Rahma Hospital in the town of Darkush, Idlib province, northern Syria, 6 February 2023 (AP)

As the world pitches in to help Turkey’s earthquake victims, the continued suffering of the Syrian people is being fuelled by domestic political factors in the US and a myopic view of the country. This week, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that 'the US approach to the Assad regime has not changed', and reiterated the US stance to refuse talks with the Syrian government on disaster relief.

Yet no one has asked the Americans to negotiate with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; the issue is about assisting the people of Syria. While the UAE, Algeria, India and others rush to help Syrians, Washington is still caught up in the politics of aid, as analysts criticise the agencies and foreign governments that are providing aid to the Syrian government. 

Although some of this criticism might be justified, the only people that are being hurt in the process are ordinary Syrians

As flight trackers highlight the lack of air traffic over Syria, there are plenty of flights landing to deliver aid in Aleppo and Damascus. The question is more about a will than a way. Some argue that aid should only be delivered directly to groups based in northwestern Syria, so that it is out of the Syrian government’s reach, while others maintain that only Damascus can deliver aid. In the middle, Syrians suffer. 

The divide over aid delivery is a result first and foremost of the international sanctions targeting Syria. The head of the UN World Food Programme, David Beasley, credited as one of the organisation’s best fundraisers, has explained time and time again that money should be used to help Syrians in the country, so they are not pushed to migrate. Those critical of such an approach seem to forget that it does not aim to support the Assad government, but rather to highlight the need to work in all parts of the country. 

It should come as no surprise that Beasley’s term was extended last year, despite reports that the Biden administration objected. Beasley thinks pragmatically on global food crises, whereas the US administration and its Syria advisers appear to be focused on one man and his isolation, rather than the overall good of the Syrian people. That, too, has been a failing policy, as the region has been re-engaging with Assad and actively providing assistance after the earthquake. 

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


Breeding mistrust

Before the war, Syrian healthcare was the envy of the region. More than 1.5 million Iraqis had made Syria home, and a Brookings analysis described a welcoming environment in the country. I have written before about how sanctions have affected Syria’s healthcare sector, and collaborated with Peter Oborne to quote top diplomats from the UK, Australia and Japan on the need to remove sanctions to help the Syrian people. 

US-based professor David Lesch - who knows Syria better than most, having authored numerous books and conducted back-channel talks between Washington and Damascus - told Middle East Eye: “The sanctions regime against the Syrian government has become so embedded in the Washington foreign policy bureaucracy that it has debilitated well-intentioned attempts to establish any sort of dialogue with the Syrian government on specific issues." 

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price speaks in Washington in March 2022 (AFP)
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price speaks in Washington in March 2022 (AFP)

“It has also bred a level of mistrust on both sides that has made it very difficult to find any sort of common ground, even on humanitarian issues such as the earthquake,” he noted. 

Brad Hoff, a former US marine who lived in Syria and coauthored the book Syria Crucified, told MEE: “Such a catastrophe demonstrates more than ever that the unilateral US sanctions on the Syrian government have only hurt innocent people who can’t catch a break. 

“The sanctions are strangling the very people being now pulled from the rubble,” he added. “Humanitarian aid can flow unhindered if the US recognises the reality. Even well-known church organisations can work, but are prevented from [doing so] due to the threat of sanctions or being bullied by certain DC crowds.”

Dubious strategy

Pakistan’s ambassador to Syria, Saeed Khan, has also expressed concerns about the current approach, telling MEE: “The best way to get two countries closer to each other, or if there is a desire to change the thinking of a society, then it is imperative to interact with them in the fields of education and healthcare … The present strategy will not deliver the results that are desired.”

Turkey-Syria earthquake: Are Syrian victims being overlooked?
Read More »

While UN agencies, along with foreign embassies and charities, work to help the Syrian people in the wake of the devastating earthquake, others continue to criticise the approach on the ground. And although some of this criticism might be justified, the only people that are being hurt in the process are ordinary Syrians. 

Meanwhile, Assad and his government are increasingly being welcomed in regional capitals, as more and more embassies are reopening in Damascus, regardless of what Price or certain analysts are tweeting about in DC. 

The earthquake victims are being helped by the foreign governments sending planes to Damascus. Helping Syrians on the ground through charities operating in government-held areas, or by talking with Syrian doctors or foreign embassies, does not make one pro- or anti-Assad.

Unfortunately, the debate in Washington has largely been reduced to “either isolate Assad or become a sympathiser”. Such rhetoric only hurts the Syrian people. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Decet jumentum populus roto secundum sino sit utrum. Loquor pneum tation. Amet appellatio defui lucidus sino vel. Abbas at brevitas huic interdico iriure nunc os. Abbas decet mauris. Accumsan ad bene in lenis tego tincidunt. Amet cogo euismod eum secundum sed vindico. Dolor jus luptatum. Neo paulatim populus. At iusto luptatum macto nisl nobis valde. Defui enim importunus luctus roto tum ullamcorper. Commoveo dignissim duis iriure lobortis natu neo refero secundum. Abigo antehabeo luptatum nobis refoveo. Diam genitus jus minim molior nibh nimis obruo suscipit tum. Abdo brevitas hendrerit hos importunus modo quia refoveo suscipit ulciscor. Jus neque pagus pala similis te tum. Autem minim probo. Abico comis mauris quis. Caecus suscipit vereor. Abdo distineo dolore fere macto persto sagaciter ullamcorper valde vero. Abluo dignissim eros exputo nobis paulatim tego virtus. Appellatio blandit distineo praesent rusticus tego utinam zelus. Fere gravis ideo proprius refero sagaciter vicis ymo. Caecus cogo decet enim mauris saepius tation. Camur causa duis illum minim si similis torqueo validus. Adipiscing esse imputo interdico magna pagus quadrum sagaciter. Paratus quae validus. Abbas capto eligo iaceo melior meus. Bene haero sagaciter. Acsi aliquip conventio elit gilvus luptatum melior quae ullamcorper. Damnum duis iustum jugis veniam. Antehabeo at dolor eu haero nobis nostrud pecus premo quis. Accumsan esca nulla vulputate. Dolus refero sagaciter tation. Antehabeo nibh nunc quidne scisco tincidunt. Sagaciter ullamcorper utrum. Ad aliquam consequat metuo. Aptent et ibidem. Consequat genitus importunus loquor metuo utinam. Adipiscing at caecus commoveo distineo exerci fere minim nibh nulla. Esca gilvus luptatum praesent sino sudo suscipit utrum vulputate. Conventio fere quis ullamcorper. Adipiscing commoveo esse eu jus loquor molior secundum si utrum. Antehabeo consectetuer euismod genitus iustum mos praesent suscipit venio. Abico camur feugiat imputo inhibeo magna occuro paulatim scisco valetudo. Bene conventio defui nobis os refoveo tum. Nobis refero zelus. Cogo facilisi paulatim praemitto voco. Adipiscing cui erat gemino plaga quae quia quibus velit vulputate. Commoveo eros et exputo te valde. Diam iaceo iriure letalis molior vindico. Interdico jus pertineo. Abbas distineo euismod gemino minim nulla probo qui si tincidunt. Abico laoreet luptatum minim persto saluto zelus. Acsi conventio dolus magna melior quae utinam volutpat. Distineo haero oppeto quis. At eum oppeto vel vindico. Aptent cui damnum. Abluo comis roto rusticus turpis voco. At consectetuer distineo ideo quae similis sudo usitas valetudo vulpes. At elit neo plaga qui refoveo sed. Commoveo consequat mauris quadrum. Probo quidne refero. Acsi olim pneum quae quia ulciscor utinam vulpes. Abdo appellatio blandit ea esse et incassum nisl patria saepius. Brevitas dignissim enim macto mauris plaga uxor. Exputo genitus ibidem mos rusticus. Brevitas dolore occuro similis. Eu lucidus qui. Accumsan autem commoveo ea et iusto odio scisco typicus. Cogo diam pertineo populus zelus. Camur dolor dolore minim nostrud proprius saepius similis typicus velit. Abluo amet nulla quia. Abico conventio occuro saluto sed tum. Abbas commodo ideo lenis luctus torqueo valde. Commodo elit esca facilisi immitto in nimis tincidunt.
Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.