Turkey requests Israeli earthquake aid after all

Medical personnel board a Turkish Air Force ambulance plane. (Flash 90)

JERUSALEM (JWN and agencies)—More than three days after a devastating earthquake struck northeastern Turkey, the Turkish government has reversed its refusal of the aid Israel immediately offered and asked for its help.

More than a thousand people are feared dead and thousands have been injured, though rescuers continue to pull survivors from the rubble.

Although Israel’s Home Front Command rescue and relief teams have been waiting on standby since Sunday, Turkey’s aid request has apparently been limited to emergency housing. Accordingly, Israel is airlifting a first shipment of seven portable structures today to house homeless survivors.

The shelters are being sent by chartered civilian aircraft, since a Turkish ban on Israeli military flights over the country has been in effect since the Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010. Nine Turkish nationals on that ship were killed when they attacked Israeli commandos enforcing Israel’s arms blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.the

The Turks were members of the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, known more commonly as the IHH, which is considered by Israel to be a terrorist group because it supports Hamas. In a true “misery loves company” irony, Israeli rescuers will be working alongside IHH and Iranian relief workers.

Israel intends to send additional shelters soon, but so far that is the limit Turkey has set on receiving its assistance. This is in stark contrast to Israel’s massive rescue effort after a similarly devastating Turkish earthquake in 1999.

More than 2,000 medical personnel and rescuers are working round the clock in Van and Ercis, the hardest hit cities, to save people still buried in the wreckage of hundreds of buildings. The IHH has set up a field kitchen to provide hot meals for thousands of earthquake victims in Ercis.

Turkish officials told Israel’s Defense Ministry that the decision to allow Iranian rescuers to help was out of necessity, since the earthquake zone is close to the Iranian border and Iranian teams could arrive even faster than those from western Turkey.

Some callers on an Israel Radio talk show expressed hope that Israel’s aid to Turkey would lead to a thaw in the relations between the two countries that have been frozen since the blockade incident. Others noted that, despite the fact that Turkey sent a firefighting plane last December to help put out the Mount Carmel forest fire, this did not lead to a breakthrough.