EU to host donor conference on Syria, Turkey quake aid

(FILES) A file photo taken on April 24, 2009 shows the European Union flag and national flags in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France. AFP PHOTO / FREDERICK FLORIN

The EU plans to host a donors conference in March to mobilize international aid for Syria and Turkey following this week’s devastating earthquake, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday, Agence France-Presse reported.

“We are now racing against the clock to save lives together. Soon we will provide relief aid, together. Turkiye and Syria can count on the EU,” von der Leyen wrote on Twitter.

The European Union said the conference would be held early next month in Brussels in coordination with Turkish authorities “to mobilise funds from the international community in support for the people” of both countries.

“No one should be left alone when a tragedy like this hits a people,” von der Leyen said in a statement.

The event is aimed at coordinating the international response to the disaster and “will be open to EU Member States, neighboring countries, UN members” and international lenders, the bloc said.

Sweden, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, will co-chair the conference at a moment when it is facing a block from Turkey on its push to join NATO.

“Sweden wants to ensure that the EU’s assistance is adequate to meet the need of the Turkish and Syrian people in this terrible time,” Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson said.

The European Union was swift to dispatch rescue teams to Turkey after the massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country on Monday close to the border with Syria.

But it initially offered only minimal assistance to Syria through existing humanitarian programs because of EU sanctions imposed since 2011 on the government of President Bashar al-Assad in response to his brutal crackdown on protesters, which spiraled into a civil war.

On Wednesday, Damascus made an official plea to the EU for help, the bloc’s commissioner for crisis management said.

Now that Damascus has made the move through the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism that coordinates aid, Janez Lenarcic said the commission was asking European countries “to respond favorably to this request.”

The participants in the EU mechanism comprise the 27 EU countries plus eight neighboring non-EU nations that include Norway and Turkey.

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