Earthquake survivors struggle in Turkey and Syria, Israel approves more illegal settlements, and dozens missing after a shipwreck off Libya. Here’s your round up of our coverage, written by Abubakr Al-Shamahi, Al Jazeera Digital’s Middle East and North Africa editor.
It’s been more than a week since two major earthquakes devastated southern Turkey and northwestern Syria, and yet, in some cases that feel almost miraculous, people are still being pulled out of the rubble alive. But those people are the rare exceptions, as the death toll keeps climbing higher, which at the time of this writing stood at more than 41,000, but will certainly only grow.
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Dispatches from across Turkey and Syria reveal a shared trauma. In the Turkish city of Kahramanmaras, it can be difficult to breathe, with smoke from fires and the stench of death hanging in the air. In Antakya, one woman is rescued, while another waits for news of her daughter, only to be told all she needs to know when she sees a body bag being brought out from the rubble. In the Syrian town of Jandaris, volunteers bury the dead.
Earthquake survivors are struggling with the cold and the lack of shelter, with so many millions in need. And then, in northwestern Syria – held by the opposition, in Syria’s neverending civil war – there has been growing anger at the United Nations for the initial absence of aid. The UN eventually apologised, almost a week after the earthquake, a week in which Syrians in the region had largely been left to fend for themselves. Since then, help has begun to arrive, including through a border crossing that has not been open since 2020. The United States has also exempted all transactions related to providing disaster relief from various sanctions against the Syrian government.
In Turkey, volunteers have admirably travelled from across the country to help in any way they can. But the conversation is now turning to what could have been done to prevent such large-scale suffering, in a country that is so obviously prone to earthquakes. Accusations have been made against the contractors who built some of the collapsed buildings, some only a few years old, constructed after tougher earthquake building regulations had been introduced in Turkey. More than 100 arrests have been made. Blame has also been directed against the Turkish government, with many asking: Why were the rules that should have prevented so many buildings from collapsing not properly enforced? The government will want to provide answers, with a presidential election pending in May.
Israel pushes for more illegal settlements
Israel’s far-right government has made no attempt to hide its policy on expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank. This week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet voted to legalise nine settlement outposts that the Israeli authorities themselves had previously designated illegal. They’re also planning to build thousands of other homes in existing settlements, on territory the Palestinians have long-claimed for their own state. Several Western countries have jointly announced that they’re “deeply troubled” by the decision – whether that will move the Israeli government to change its mind, seems unlikely.
Meanwhile, Israeli forces have killed more Palestinians during raids across the occupied West Bank. One raid, on Tuesday, killed a 17-year-old boy, bringing the number of Palestinians killed by Israelis in the first six weeks of this year to 50.
73 ‘presumed dead’ in Libya shipwreck
This week marked yet another major loss of life in the Mediterranean Sea, after the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that 11 bodies had been retrieved from the waters off Libya, and that at least 73 migrants and refugees headed for Europe are presumed dead following a shipwreck.
The IOM says that more than 25,000 migrants and refugees have gone missing in the Mediterranean since 2014. Despite the high death toll, European countries continue to try to make it harder for people to reach their borders. An agreement between Italy and Libya was renewed earlier this month for another three years, despite humanitarian organisations warning that it could make Rome complicit in crimes against humanity.
And now for something different
A dog or a horse whisperer, you may have heard of—a camel whisperer, perhaps less so. But in the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula there’s a special language used by herders to convey commands that move camels along. The language itself, Alheda’a, was recognised by UNESCO in 2022. Today, it remains a remarkable connection to generations that stretch back through the sands of time.
Amid cholera outbreak, health fears grow in quake-hit Syria | Explosions in Gaza Strip after Israeli air raids | Israelis stage protests against judicial reforms | Australia says it shut down Iranian surveillance operation last year | Tunisia arrests critics of President Kais Saied | Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi leads first state visit to China | Iranian-French academic Fariba Adelkhah released from prison | Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov visits Sudan | Dreams shattered 12 years after Yemen’s uprising | UN calls rise in migrants from Horn of Africa to Gulf states ‘worrying’ |
Quote of the Week
“When night falls and my children sleep, I break down and cry as I wonder how we are going to find a house to live in again, so they can be spared the cold of this tent.” | Samaher Rashid, a Syrian mother of 10 children who survived last week’s earthquakes, but now only has a tent to protect her and her family from the harsh winter.