Israel is offering aid to the Turkish government after a massive magnitude 7.2 earthquake rocked the southeast of the country on Sunday morning, destroying buildings and killing up to 1,000 people.
The earthquake’s epicenter was 20 kilometers from the city of Van, near the Iranian border. Initial reports suggested that 50 people had been injured in the quake, but later estimates suggest the death toll is closer to 1,000.
Israel and Turkey have been embroiled in a diplomatic crisis that has driven the two countries apart after an Israeli raid on a flotilla to Gaza in 2010 left nine Turkish nationals dead.
Despite the difficulties, Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry’s diplomatic-security bureau, to contact Turkish officials and offer them “any aid required” to deal with the aftermath of the natural disaster.
Foreign Ministry officials have also been in contact with the Turkish government to see if it needs any additional help, while President Shimon Peres called Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul to offer his condolences, and repeating an offer of Israeli aid.
“Speaking as a human being, a Jew and an Israeli who remembers and is aware of the depth of the historic relations between our two countries, I extend condolences on behalf of the entire (Israeli) people,” Peres told Gul. “In this difficult hour, the State of Israel is ready to offer any assistance possible, anywhere in Turkey and at any time.”
The Turkish President thanked Peres and said Turkey is still trying to assess the damage done by the quake. He said he hopes that Turkish aid teams will not require outside assistance in rescue efforts.
Benny Gantz, Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, has instructed the IDF Home Front Command to prepare for a potential delegation to the Turkish disaster zone.
The quake, which was felt in central Israel, was reported to be 5km deep, according to the Kandilli Observatory. It was one of the most powerful tremors to hit the earthquake-prone country in years. In 1999, more than 20,000 people were killed in two large quakes that hit northwest Turkey.