Levant 24 was able to speak with the Syrian Salvation Government’s Mohammed Jamal al-Shahoud, Director of Public Relations for the Presidency of the Council of Ministers. We asked al-Shahoud about the recent hardships the liberated areas are experiencing due to the 7.8 earthquake which recently struck the region and how the government is approaching this trying test.
L24: In the past, the Salvation Government (SSG) has dealt with the results of large-scale bombing by the Syrian and Russian regimes. How does this compare to this catastrophe?
Al-Shahoud: The destruction that occurred during the bombing is incomparable to the amount of destruction that occurred in this catastrophe, which covered a huge area in less than two minutes. However, the government has mobilized all of its personnel, both civilian and military, to mitigate the damage from this catastrophe and help our people.
L24: How quickly did the Salvation Government respond to this crisis? What plans have been implemented?
Al-Shahoud: The SSG has been involved in the event since it first occurred, starting with the Prime Minister, who inspected the site of the destruction, as well as police and medical personnel, in addition to the rescue teams that arrived promptly at the scene. So far, the government is still in a state of full readiness, and it is working continuously and diligently, day and night, to save what can be saved, and it spares no effort to ensure this at all levels.
L24: This disaster spans two countries and various administrative areas, did you manage to coordinate rescue work with representatives of the Turkish side or with other earthquake-affected areas beyond your sphere of influence, that is not administered by the SSG?
Al-Shahoud: Coordination has been established with the internal parties in the northern regions, the Euphrates Shield and the Olive Branch since our pain and sorrow are one. The Salvation Government and the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch districts have the same resources. We have coordination with the Turkish side, which also suffered from the earthquake, just like us. And distress signals were sent to all humanitarian and international organizations to provide aid.
L24: What services did the Salvation Government provide after this disaster?
Al-Shahoud: The services provided by the SSG were at the humanitarian and logistical levels. All ministries were involved in the aftermath of the disaster, starting with the Ministry of Health, whose staff was mobilized in public and private hospitals and ambulance crews. The Ministry of the Interior mobilized its units to ensure the safety of property and facilitate the arrival of service vehicles and ambulances to the sites of destruction.
Also, the local administration mobilized its personnel and engineering machinery, which were involved in removing rubble and conducting inspections of dangerous and cracked buildings. The Ministry of Development and Humanitarian Affairs provided temporary shelters for those who lost their homes. The total number of shelter centers reached more than 40 where humanitarian assistance is provided to the victims. The Ministry of Information facilitated the work of journalists and media workers and covered events directly. All state bodies are still in a state of maximum readiness.
L24: What is the biggest challenge you have faced in coping with the aftermath of one of the most violent earthquakes that have occurred in the region in the last century?
Al-Shahoud: The lack of technology is the biggest obstacle, as well as the day-to-day necessities for the victims, in addition, there are medical needs and the need for substantial humanitarian assistance.
L24: What do you need most to provide adequate assistance to the Syrian people affected by these earthquakes?
Al-Shahoud: What we need most is to support the health sector by providing medicine, medical supplies, equipment and support for medical personnel, housing for the affected families, heavy equipment, needed to remove debris and rubble, and emergency supplies for the survivors.
L24: What aid did people receive from local or international organizations?
Al-Shahoud: From our internal, local, institutions it’s extensive medical assistance, housing, and shelter, as well as provisional and logistical assistance. The government began to use resources from existing reserve stocks of wheat and transferred people from affected areas to safer areas in emergency shelters. We confirm that the need is great and the burden is heavy, and we need international assistance and humanitarian campaigns to relieve our people, who have been tormented by the previous sufferings that have befallen them at the hands of the Assad regime and his supporters. As for aid from international organizations, their response has been very weak.
L24: What message would you like to convey to the Syrian people after this devastating disaster?
Al-Shahoud: First of all, we say to them, may Allah make our reward the greatest, and may Allah have mercy on the dead and settle them in the highest Paradise. Our jihad is to free our land from tyrants and criminals.
L24: What message would you like to convey to the international community regarding this humanitarian disaster?
Al-Shahoud: Our message to the international community, which has isolated itself from us, is that the fig leaf has fallen and everything is exposed, so no compliments because the international community has not taken responsibility for this geographical region and its people (Syrians). Therefore, we reproach the international community and the Arab world.