(Photo credit: Syrian Presidency)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave a televised speech on 16 February, in which he highlighted the repercussions of the deadly earthquake and thanked the countries that rushed to aid Syria following the disaster.
The “twelve years of war and embargo … gave Syrian society the expertise and the ability to act quickly and effectively in the early hours of the earthquake,” Assad said.
The president admitted that the disaster’s magnitude outweighs Syria’s available capabilities and resources, as other officials have suggested recently.
“This was not only because of the war and the sanctions, but also because Syria has not been an earthquake area for about two and a half centuries. Neither the buildings nor the institutions nor the equipment were prepared.”
The president added that despite this, a “step by step” approach, as well as dialogue and solidarity between all sectors of the country, will provide Syria with an opportunity to deal with the aftermath of the disaster in a positive way.
This includes a continuation of rescue efforts, providing emergency shelters, and securing basic requirements such as food, clothing, and medicine. Assad assured that the government has already begun providing housing for disaster-stricken Syrians, and will continue to do so.
Assad then thanked the government, civil society organizations, and volunteer teams for their quick and effective response, as well as “the emergency aid sent by sisterly and friendly countries, which constituted a significant support for the national efforts to alleviate the impact of the earthquake and save many of the injured.”
“I would like to thank in particular the rescue teams from different countries which took part in rescue operations … They conducted their work with the same enthusiasm and devotion as their Syrian colleagues. They were real brothers. So, on behalf of every Syrian, we thank them and are grateful to them.”
Following the devastating earthquake, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, the UAE, and Algeria were, among others, the first to deliver aid to Syria despite the high risk of US sanctions, which Washington ended up having to temporarily suspend following the storm of criticism it faced for politicizing the disaster.
Other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, were slower to respond.
Russian, Iranian, Lebanese, and Palestinian rescue teams were among those participating in the efforts, pulling victims out of the rubble in the affected areas.
Over the past several days, the Syrian president has received the foreign ministers of the UAE and Jordan, countries who in the last few years have rekindled friendly ties with Damascus. According to an official Syrian source, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud will visit Syria in the coming days. This would mark the first visit by a Saudi official since Riyadh broke off diplomatic ties with Damascus over a decade ago.
A few days after the quake, Tunisia announced its intention to restore diplomatic relations with the Damascus government.
“Washington’s allies in the region are showing an increased tendency to detach from escalatory approaches [towards Damascus],” particularly after the quake, Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar wrote. This is something that the US finds unacceptable, as it has continued to condemn any normalization with Syria throughout the aftermath of the earthquake.
Western media outlets have suggested that the earthquake is ‘propping up’ Assad and his government, signifying their blatant politicization of a tragic event.