Live Updates: Turkey-Syria earthquake kills thousands

A man who evacuated his home warms up by a fire in the street after the earthquake in Aleppo, Syria, on February 8.
A man who evacuated his home warms up by a fire in a street after the earthquake in Aleppo, Syria, on February 8. (Firas Makdesi/Reuters)

The Syrian government stepped up calls for the lifting of U.S. and EU economic sanctions after Monday’s earthquake.

Aid groups working in government-held areas in Syria have blamed Western sanctions for a lack of heavy machinery and medical equipment needed to clear the rubble and treat the wounded.

These measures against Syria are intended to force the regime into the political process to end the ongoing civil war.

Some background: Most of the earthquake casualties in Syria were reported in the northwestern part of the country, mainly in the cities of Aleppo, Hama, Latakia and Tartus, state news agency SANA reported.

The region is already struggling to rebuild vital infrastructure severely damaged by persistent aerial bombardment during the country’s civil war, which has claimed the lives of 300,000 people since 2011, according to United Nations estimates.

Half of the 4.6 million people in northwestern Syria have been forced from their homes by the conflict, with 1.7 million currently living in tents and refugee camps in the region, according to UNICEF.

Several areas in northwestern Syria, including Idlib, are still controlled by anti-government rebels.

On Wednesday, Syrian government foreign minister Faisal Mekdad called on European aid, saying sanctions should not be an “excuse”.

“Sending aid from Europe does not need to go through a bureaucratic process. International law says humanitarian aid is not sanctioned, so this is no excuse,” Mekdade told Lebanese media Al Mayadeen.

Asked whether the regime would allow aid into rebel-held territory, the Syrian government said international aid would be distributed solely by the Syrian government.

“The Syrian government is ready to allow aid to go to all areas, provided it doesn’t reach terrorist armed groups,” McDade said.

“In Syria, we have local partners in the form of non-governmental organizations that are providing humanitarian support,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

“These partners, unlike the Syrian regime, are there to help people and not brutalize them,” Price added.

CNN’s Rhea Mogul, Isil Sariyuce, Gul Tuysuz and Jack Guy contributed reporting.

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