Earthquake elicits Lebanese solidarity towards Syrian population
by Fady Noun

Many Lebanese show generosity, sorrow, and closeness to quake victims. The first Lebanese rescue teams set off for the affected area. A delegation of Lebanese ministers travels to Damascus. Despite its serious economic crisis, Lebanon mobilises to bring aid. Like the Port of Beirut explosion, tragedy brings together.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Monday’s earthquake has profoundly distressed people in Lebanon, torn from their sleep in the middle of the night by repeated tremors. Uncertain about their origin, they relived bad memories of the explosion of 4 August 2020 in the capital.

Yet, many regain their composure when they realised that it was an earthquake, and not the accidental explosion at a warehouse, a bombing, or an attack.

In the southern suburbs of Beirut, people started shouting “Allāhu ʾakbaru” as the ground shook. This scared 22-year-old Hussein out of his wits. “I thought it was the return of the Mahdi," he is quoted as saying in the media.

A delegation led by Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib that included Ali Hamieh,  Hector Hajjar and Abbas Hajj Hassan, respectively outgoing ministers of Public Works, Social Affairs and Agriculture, was due in Syria today to discuss "the possibilities of Lebanese assistance in rescue operations".

This came despite the fact that relations between Lebanon and Syria were suspended in late 2011 after Bashar al-Assad’s regime was banned from the Arab League following its brutal crackdown of a popular uprising.

In fact, Lebanese rescue workers have already been sent to Syria. The Lebanese military announced yesterday that it was sending 15 members of its Corps of Engineers to Syria to help in search and rescue operations.

Money has been allocated for a civil defence team, while the Lebanese Red Cross has also sent a rescue team. For his part, Public Works Minister Ali Hamieh (Hezbollah), announced yesterday that a number of Lebanese companies have decided to send excavators and other heavy machinery to Syria to help clear the rubble.

"Our ports and airport are at the disposal of rescue operations," the minister said. “They will be open to all ships and planes carrying relief and fully exempt from all fees and taxes," he added.

Churches naturally expressed their solidarity with the suffering Syrian population, as did many of their faithful.

All political movements did the same, but some politicians, such as Fares Souaid, stressed that their solidarity is addressed "to the people and not to the regime".

Like the United States, many political groups who see themselves as "sovereigntist” want to prevent the regime in place from diverting to its advantage the momentum of humanitarian solidarity.

Churches open to refugees

Bringing relief from Lebanon is complicated by the fact that the quake-affected areas are in government-controlled as well as rebel-controlled areas.

More than a quarter of deaths have been reported in government-held Aleppo province. The city was also hit hard with about 50 collapsed buildings.

Vincent Gelot, director for Lebanon and Syria of the L'Œuvre d'Orient NGO, accompanied a 10-tonne semi-trailer lorry loaded with blankets that left Beirut yesterday for Aleppo; this followed a request from Aleppo bishops after they held an emergency meeting.

L’Œuvre d'Orient is working with Bishop Mario Zenari, nuncio to Syria, who also arrived in this city on the same day with a load of fuel oil, so precious in the extremely cold winter, which is sorely missed by residents who have been the first victims of a heartless US blockade.

In addition, mosques and churches are open to families who saw their homes collapse as a result of the quake, or fear that they are too unsafe in case of more tremors.