Earthquake leaves Syrians across frontlines with shared catastrophe

FILE PHOTO: A man stands near a damaged vehicle, following an earthquake, in rebel-held Azaz, Syria February 6, 2023. REUTERS/Mahmoud Hassano

BEIRUT (Reuters) - On one side of Syria's civil war, a man in army fatigues carried a lifeless child's ashen body from the rubble of a shattered building in the government-held city of Hama.

Across a frontline on another side of Syria, a rescue worker in the white helmet and black-yellow vest of the Syrian civil defence carried a young girl - shaken but alive - from the rubble of her home in rebel-held Azaz.

Both witnessed by Reuters journalists, the scenes that unfolded in the hours after an earthquake devastated Syria and Turkey on Monday were similar, though the uniforms clearly located the rescuers on opposing sides of the conflict that has splintered the country.

"The earthquake shook opposition held and regime-held areas, and I support the Syrian revolution with all my heart, but I care for my people," Ramadan Suleiman, 28, said by phone, expressing sympathy for civilians living in government areas.

"I’m a human, they’re human, we felt for those in Turkey and feel the same when it happens in other places like Europe. That’s humanity," said Suleiman, who was displaced to Idlib from Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria during the war.

The quake death toll in Syria currently stands at more than 1,800, with many people believed to be trapped under rubble.

Rescue workers say 1,020 were killed in the rebel-held northwest. State media say at least 812 people perished in government-held areas including Aleppo, Latakia, Hama and Tartous.


The disaster has compounded misery in a country where hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in a conflict that began in 2011 when protests against President Bashar al-Assad's rule were met with a deadly crackdown.

"This is the last thing that the country needed. It's a country that is inhabited by death," said Hassan Hussein, from the coastal city and government stronghold of Tartous.

With millions uprooted by the war, the United Nations says humanitarian needs are today greater than ever, even though the main frontlines have been frozen for several years. With U.N.-backed diplomacy going nowhere, Syria remains deeply divided.

In the rebel-held city of Atareb, Yousef Haboush lamented how the quake had forced many from their homes yet again.

"On top of displacement from our towns and after we finally found homes there is now another displacement," said Haboush, who fled from Damascus at the height of the conflict.

People across Syria have faced another shared threat in recent times: an outbreak of cholera which has thrived in the devastation wrought by conflict.

In the mountains above Latakia near Assad's hometown, residents said several buildings had collapsed and there were many dead. Russian troops, civil defence and government forces assisted in a swift relief effort, two residents said.

One of the residents, Abu Hamid, said he felt a sense of "proximity" to other Syrians, including those in rebel-held areas. "It may be the first time it happens in a long time," he said. "The earthquake did not discriminate."

(Reporting by Timour Azhari and Suleiman al-Khalidi; Writing by Timour Azhari; Editing by Tom Perry and Aurora Ellis)

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