3 Syrian American N.J. mayors call for more aid to their quake-hit native country

Turkey, Syria earthquake

Emergency teams search for people in the rubble in a destroyed building in Adana, southern Turkey, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. A powerful earthquake hit southeast Turkey and Syria early Monday, toppling hundreds of buildings and killing and injuring thousands of people. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)


Three Syrian-American New Jersey mayors have asked the federal government and international community to aid and make it easier to help their native county, which was hit by a devastating earthquake on Monday.

Montvale’s Michael Ghassali and Prospect Park Mayor Mohamed T. Khairullah, who were both born in Aleppo, Syria, as well as Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, whose mother is a Syrian immigrant from Aleppo, issued a statement Tuesday. The three are asking the White House and international community to send equipment to extract those who are trapped, “before it is too late for any possible survivors.”

They also called for the federal government to identify organizations that the American public can donate to without being flagged, due to current sanctions against the Syrian government, that can provide aid directly and quickly to those affected.

Aid workers have said that getting funding and supplies into Syria after the catastrophic quake that has killed thousands there and in Turkey, and brought down thousands of buildings, has been hampered by Syria’s deep fragmentation from years of war.

The U.S. and European Union have sanctions on the government of President Bashar Assad in Damascus and are reluctant to funnel aid through his authorities. Aid can only reach the rebel-held northwest of Syria through a single crossing point from Turkey, where roads and other infrastructure have been damaged.

With widespread destruction and tens of thousands left homeless in various parts of Syria, aid groups say they are receiving only limited help.

“With over 5,000 people killed due to the collapsing infrastructure, right now, we are in a race against time to save hundreds, if not thousands of people that are trapped and still may be alive,” Khairullah said in a statement. “It is imperative that we work with our partners at the federal level and abroad to fight to ensure no stone is left unturned to find every remaining survivor.”

So far, the U.S. and its allies have resisted attempts at creating a political opening by way of the disaster response. U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Monday that it would be “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 said the U.S. would continue to provide aid through “humanitarian partners on the ground.”

This article contains material from the Associated Press.

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Chris Sheldon may be reached at csheldon@njadvancemedia.com.

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