Israel is sending aid to Syria as well as Turkey as they grapple with the aftermath of a devastating earthquake that killed over a thousand people in the region, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday.
Netanyahu said that Israel had received requests through diplomatic channels to assist in Syria, and that aid would be provided there.
“A request was also received to [provide relief] for the many who were injured in the earthquake in Syria,” Netanyahu said, and therefore he has “instructed that this be done.”
The request came via Russia, Israeli sources told The Times of Israel. Moscow’s embassy in Israel declined to comment on the reports. However, an unnamed Syrian official flatly denied that Damascus had made such a request for Israeli assistance in an interview with the Hezbollah-linked Al Mayadeen website.
Still, the Israeli military and other security bodies were looking into how to provide aid to Syria, sources told The Times of Israel.
Israel plans to send tents, medication and blankets to Syria.
In addition, a senior political official said that Israel would receive wounded Syrians for medical treatment if a request was made.
Israel considers Syria a hostile state, and the two do not have diplomatic ties. However, during the neighboring country’s bloody civil war, the IDF carried out a massive humanitarian operation to aid Syrian civilians.
Netanyahu also said he sends condolences to the citizens of Turkey, and that “at the request of the Turkish government, I have instructed extraction, rescue, and medical relief teams.”
“That is how we operate around the world, and also how we operate nearby,” he said in a statement.
The first of two Israeli teams – a small delegation tasked with gaining an initial picture of the situation on the ground – was set to head out on Monday evening.
A second flight, slated to depart overnight, will contain the IDF Home Front Command search and rescue team.Reservists in the unit told The Times of Israel that for now, only officers and doctors were to be part of the delegation.
The military is calling the operation “Olive Branches.”
The IDF has still not decided which airport it will fly into. Adana and Malatya, both in southern Turkey, are both options.
The Foreign Ministry is weighing a third flight containing humanitarian items and medicine.
Earlier Monday, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and ministry Director General Ronen Levi headed an “emergency meeting” with Israel’s envoy to Ankara Irit Lillian and other diplomats to discuss the situation. He spoke several hours later with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, and discussed the dispatch of Israeli assistance.
“In the name of the State of Israel, I would like to express deep sorrow to the Turkish people over the severe earthquake that struck southern Turkey tonight,” said Cohen.
“Our hearts are with the casualties, and we wish a speedy recovery to the injured. I’ve instructed the Foreign Ministry to lead a rapid assistance plan to Turkey to deal with this difficult disaster,” he added.
Foreign Ministry staff hold an emergency meeting in Jerusalem on February 6, 2023 about the earthquake in Turkey. (Courtesy)”The security forces are ready to offer any assistance that is required,” said Gallant in a statement, noting that Israeli rescue teams have “accumulated a lot of experience over the years in dealing with disaster areas and in the mission of saving lives.”
Gallant said later Monday that he had spoken with his Turkish counterpart, Gen. Hulusi Akar, and “told him that Israeli security forces are on standby and ready to help the Turkish nation with any required life-saving efforts.”
Eynat Shlein, the head of MASHAV, Israel’s national aid agency, flew to Turkey Monday morning.
United Hatzalah of Israel said that it was preparing to send a relief mission to Turkey in coordination with the foreign, defense and health ministries.
“We are standing at the ready to send a relief mission consisting of doctors, paramedics, EMTs, members of the psychotrauma and crisis response unit, and members of the search and rescue units, with medical supplies and humanitarian aid, in order to provide assistance to the thousands of people in need in Turkey,” said United Hatzalah CEO Eli Pollack.
The Magen David Adom emergency services said in a statement that it had been in contact with its Turkish counterparts in the Red Crescent and “offered humanitarian and medical assistance.”
“Magen David Adom has experience in assisting in disaster situations and the professionals are closely following the earthquake disaster in Turkey, and are prepared to provide any assistance that may be required,” the organization said.
President Isaac Herzog sent his condolences to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the “enormous disaster,” expressing sadness “for the loss of life and destruction of livelihoods.”
“The State of Israel always stands ready to assist in every way possible,” Herzog added. “Our hearts are with the grieving families and the Turkish people at this painful moment.”
Lillian, the Israeli ambassador, tweeted that “the thoughts of Israel are with Turkey and its people as we see the first picture of the horrific results of the earthquake.”
Opposition leader Yair Lapid said he “sends my condolences to the Turkish people for last night’s severe earthquake. Israel stands with them.”
Turkey’s ambassador to Israel, Sakir Ozkan Torunlar, told The Times of Israel that the messages of condolence and concern “give us the strength in our efforts for saving those who are still under debris.”
A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit southern Turkey and northern Syria early Monday, toppling buildings and triggering a frantic search for survivors in the rubble in cities and towns across the area. Over 1,000 were killed and hundreds injured, and the toll was expected to rise.
The quake was also felt by some residents of Israel, although there was no damage reported. In recent years, a series of tremors have been felt across the country, rattling residents but with no long-term damage or injuries.
The IDF Home Front Command is regularly dispatched around the world to assist in natural disasters, including earthquakes, wildfires, flooding and building collapses. A team sent to Surfside, Florida, in 2021 helped head up rescue efforts at a deadly condo collapse.
In 2020, when neither country had ambassadors in the other’s capital, Israel offered to send aid to Turkey following a deadly earthquake in the country, although Ankara did not accept the assistance. Relations between the two countries have since improved and ambassadors were returned, and Monday’s earthquake appears much more severe.
Last year, Israel sent firefighting planes to battle a wildfire in Turkish-backed northern Cyprus, and has taken part in similar missions in Greece and Cyprus in recent years.
Times of Israel staff and AP contributed to this report.