PCUSA urges Biden to lift sanctions on Syria after earthquake

This aerial view shows residents helped by bulldozers, searching for victims and survivors in the rubble of collapsed buildings, following an earthquake in the town of Sarmada in the countryside of the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, early on February 6, 2023. |

The head of Presbyterian Church (USA) has called on the Biden administration to lift sanctions on Syria so that humanitarian aid can reach earthquake victims.

A massive earthquake clocked in with a magnitude of 7.8 hit the Turkish town of Nurdagi, which is near the Syrian border, resulting in more than 11,200 deaths. 

The Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, stated clerk for PCUSA Office of the General Assembly, said in a statement Tuesday that the United States should lift its sanctions on Syria.

“The sanctions, which have been in place for decades, only add misery to an already traumatized and impoverished population, particularly following the devastating civil war that began in 2011,” stated Nelson.

“This earthquake adds yet more misery to the people of Syria who, in recent years, have been slowly trying to rebuild their homes and their lives.”

According to Nelson, “the effect of the sanctions slows down transfers of aid” to its partners working in the region, sometimes delaying the delivery of humanitarian aid by months at a time.

“Lifting the sanctions will enable the aid that is required for the immediate emergency to flow smoothly and equip people to rebuild their homes and lives in the coming weeks and months,” said Nelson.

“This would be the most compassionate action our government could take in response to this tragedy. We urge that the well-being and needs of the most vulnerable people in Syria and throughout the region — who have suffered so greatly — be at the center of our concern.”

In addition to the initial 7.8 magnitude earthquake that was felt as far as Lebanon and Israel, there have been multiple aftershocks in the region, including one that registered as a 7.5 magnitude quake.

“I have never felt anything like it in the 40 years I’ve lived,” said a resident of Gaziantep, southern Turkey, as quoted by the BBC. “We were shaken at least three times very strongly, like a baby in a crib.”  

According to the U.S. Department of State, Syria was labeled an official state sponsor of terror back in 1979, and various sanctions were implemented against the Middle Eastern nation in 2004 and 2011. 

In addition to the PCUSA, the Middle East Council of Churches have also called on the United States to immediately end sanctions against Syria “so sanctions may not turn into a crime against humanity.”

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