After a devastating earthquake hit Syria and Turkey, killing thousands of people, the US State Department showed no interest in lifting crippling economic sanctions on Syria that are specifically designed to prevent the country’s reconstruction.
As of Monday night, the earthquake has killed at least 2,316 people in Turkey and 1,444 in northwest Syria, including in Syrian government-controlled territory and areas controlled by anti-government fighters.
The Syrian Health Ministry said 711 people died in government-controlled territory. In areas of Syria’s northwest Idlib province that are mostly controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an al-Qaeda-linked group, reports said 733 people had died.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday that the US would work with NGOs in the country but wouldn’t engage with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He didn’t give any indication that the US would lift sanctions on Syria.
When asked by Antiwar.com if the Biden administration was considering lifting sanctions, the State Department referred to Price’s comments about working with NGOs. “In Turkey, we have a partner in the government; in Syria, we have a partner in the form of NGOs on the ground who are providing humanitarian support,” Price said.
When pressed on why the US wouldn’t engage with Damascus, Price said 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.”
Price claimed that no other country has done more than the US to provide aid to the Syrian people. But US sanctions on Syria have a devastating impact on the civilian population, as a UN special rapporteur recently detailed in a report after visiting the country.
According to Al Jazeera, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), a US-based advocacy group, called on Monday for the immediate lifting of US sanctions on Syria. “Lifting of the sanctions will open the doors for additional and supplemental aid that will provide immediate relief to those in need,” the ADC said.
US sanctions have impeded relief efforts after earthquakes in the past. In June 2022, an earthquake in Afghanistan killed over 1,100 people, and UN officials said sanctions were complicating aid deliveries. But US sanctions on Afghanistan remained and are still in effect today despite UN warnings that six million Afghans are facing the risk of famine.