US Announces $85 Mn Aid, Sanctions Relief for Quake-hit Türkiye and Syria

A man sits among the rubble of collapsed buildings in Kahramanmaras, on February 9, 2023, three days after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck southeast Türkiye. (Ozan Kose/AFP)
A man sits among the rubble of collapsed buildings in Kahramanmaras, on February 9, 2023, three days after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck southeast Türkiye. (Ozan Kose/AFP)
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US Announces $85 Mn Aid, Sanctions Relief for Quake-hit Türkiye and Syria

A man sits among the rubble of collapsed buildings in Kahramanmaras, on February 9, 2023, three days after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck southeast Türkiye. (Ozan Kose/AFP)
A man sits among the rubble of collapsed buildings in Kahramanmaras, on February 9, 2023, three days after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck southeast Türkiye. (Ozan Kose/AFP)

The United States on Thursday announced an initial $85 million aid package to help Türkiye and Syria recover from the devastating earthquake, while also granting a temporary relief of some Damascus-related sanctions.

The 7.8-magnitude quake struck early Monday near the Turkish-Syrian border, and by Friday morning the death toll in both countries topped 21,000. Search efforts persist but chances of finding survivors are dimming, AFP said.

The US Agency for International Development said the funding will go to partners on the ground "to deliver urgently needed aid for millions of people", including through food, shelter and emergency health services.

The funding will also support safe drinking water and sanitation to prevent the outbreak of disease, USAID said in a statement.

The announcement comes after Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier Thursday spoke by telephone with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to discuss the NATO ally's needs.

"We are proud to join the global efforts to help Türkiye just as Türkiye has so often contributed its own humanitarian rescue experts to so many other countries in the past," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters as he described the call.

The Treasury Department later announced a temporary lifting of some Syria-related sanctions, hoping to ensure that aid moves as quick as possible to those affected.

The move "authorizes for 180 days all transactions related to earthquake relief that would be otherwise prohibited by the Syrian Sanctions Regulations," the department said in a statement.

It stated however that US sanctions programs "already contain robust exemptions for humanitarian efforts."

The United States has sent rescue teams to Türkiye and has contributed concrete breakers, generators, water purification systems and helicopters, officials said Thursday.

USAID said rescue teams were focused on badly hit Adiyaman -- a city in southeastern Türkiye -- seeking survivors with dogs, cameras and listening devices.

Following major damage to roads and bridges, the US military has sent Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters to transfer supplies, it said.

- 'Allow aid in' -
Assistance in Syria is going through local partners as the United States refuses to deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, from whom Washington demands accountability over abuses during the brutal civil war.

"We call on the Assad regime to immediately allow aid in through all border crossings; allow the distribution of aid to all affected areas; and to let humanitarians access all people in Syria who are in need, without exception," Blinken said in a statement Thursday evening.

An aid convoy earlier Thursday reached rebel-held northwestern Syria for the first time since the earthquake, going through the only open border crossing -- Bab al-Hawa on the Turkish side.

Russia, the key international backer of Assad, has wielded its veto power at the UN Security Council to stop other crossings and authorize Bab al-Hawa only six months at a time as it tries to promote the sovereignty of the Damascus government.

As of Friday morning, the death toll from Monday's earthquake topped 21,000 in Türkiye and Syria.



US Slaps Sanctions on Network It Accuses of Moving Billions for Iran’s Military

The Treasury Department is pictured in Washington, US, April 25, 2021. (Reuters)
The Treasury Department is pictured in Washington, US, April 25, 2021. (Reuters)
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US Slaps Sanctions on Network It Accuses of Moving Billions for Iran’s Military

The Treasury Department is pictured in Washington, US, April 25, 2021. (Reuters)
The Treasury Department is pictured in Washington, US, April 25, 2021. (Reuters)

The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on nearly 50 entities and people it accused of moving billions of dollars for Iran's military.

The US Treasury Department in a statement said those targeted on Tuesday constitute a "shadow banking network" used by Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), both of which are under US sanctions.

The network helped the MODAFL and IRGC - which earn money notably from the sale of oil and petrochemicals - gain access to the international financial system and process the equivalent of billions of dollars since 2020, the Treasury said.

The Treasury said the revenue generated by the MODAFL and IRGC through networks of Iranian exchange houses and foreign cover companies supported the provision of weapons and funding to Iran's proxy groups, including Yemen's Houthi militias, and the transfer of drones to Russia for use in the war against Ukraine.

Washington has issued rafts of sanctions targeting Iranian drones and the Houthis, who have been launching drone and missile strikes in shipping lanes since November in what they say is solidarity with Palestinians in Israel's war in Gaza.

"We continue to work with allies and partners, as well as the global financial industry, to increase vigilance against the movement of funds supporting terrorism," Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in the statement.

Iran's mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately comment on the action.

Tuesday's action targeted dozens of companies in Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates and Marshall Islands, as well as Iran and Türkiye-based firms.

The Treasury said the MODAFL Supply Division uses exchange houses in Iran that manage numerous cover companies registered in jurisdictions such as Hong Kong or the UAE to launder revenue, including from oil sales conducted by Sahara Thunder, which the US imposed sanctions on in April.

The Treasury at the time accused Sahara Thunder of being a front company that oversees MODAFL's commercial activities in support of the IRGC and Russia's war in Ukraine, playing a key role in Iran's design, development, manufacture and sale of thousands of drones.

The move freezes the US assets of banned companies and individuals, and generally bars Americans from dealing with them. Those that engage in certain transactions with them also risk being hit with sanctions.