Naama Barak
February 7, 2023, Updated February 28, 2023

Despite blocked roads, and collapsed bridges, a 150-strong Israeli aid delegation reached Turkey on Tuesday morning and is heading out to the earthquake zone where it is set to join local search and rescue operations in an effort to rescue survivors from the rubble.

The delegation, led by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry and Israel Defense Forces, left for Turkey on Monday night carrying search and rescue teams and equipment. Further aid such as medical equipment, food and blankets are set to be flown to Turkey later on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

“We began our journey and it’s complicated,” delegation member Alon Lavi told ISRAEL21c from Turkey. “Roads have been shut down because of collapsed bridges, and we’re driving on snowy side roads. The nearer we’re getting the more we can see the areas that were hit.

“There are two main axes going on here at the same time,” he adds. “The first, main and urgent axis is that of search and rescue, and that’s what the delegation that’s here now for. The second axis is aid. The Foreign Ministry, through its aid agency MASHAV, is examining different aid options such as tents, blankets and so forth.”

According to Foreign Ministry sources, Israel is also prepared to set up a field hospital in Turkey and the matter is in advanced discussions.

“We are arriving when there’s still a chance to find people alive”
The wreckage of a collapsed building in Diyarbakır, Turkey, on February 6 2023. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

“Israel has experience and proven abilities,” Lavi notes. “The Home Front Command’s rescue unit is one of the leading in the world and has plenty of experience. Our added value is our real experience and proven abilities that we hope can aid the people here.”

Prior to takeoff, the delegation’s leader, Col. (Res.) Golan Vach, spoke about the mission ahead. “We’re arriving at a stage where there’s still a chance to find people alive,” he said.

“Conditions as you know are not easy ones, both weather conditions and the conditions of the wreckage, which from what we understand are very severe. But there’s still a chance to find people alive, and we hope to aid the country and its citizens as much as possible,” he added.

“We are arriving when there’s still a chance to find people alive”
The ‘Olive Branches’ humanitarian aid delegation left for Turkey on Monday night. Photo courtesy of the Israeli Foreign Ministry

The Turkish government reported that the death toll in the country had risen to 3,419 by Tuesday morning. In neighboring Syria, 1,559 people were reported to have been killed in the quake. Meanwhile, around 16,000 people are reported to have been wounded in Turkey, as well as an additional 3,500 in Syria.

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Turkey and neighboring Syria in the early hours of Monday morning was the most powerful one to do so since 1939. It was followed only hours later by a 7.7 magnitude quake in Turkey.

Many buildings and apartment blocks collapsed, often with people still sleeping.

“We are arriving when there’s still a chance to find people alive”
Members of Israel’s rescue team make their way to the plane on January 7th. Photo courtesy of the Israel Defense Forces

Rescue workers in Turkey and Syria are facing harsh conditions in their search – icy temperatures, rainfall and aftershocks all hampered operations on Monday, and weather conditions remained bleak on Tuesday. The death toll is expected to rise once more victims are unearthed from the rubble and as communications are resumed with more remote areas.

The Israeli delegation, codenamed “olive branches” flew to Turkey following a request for help from the Turkish authorities and will be joining similar delegations from around the world. Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke with his Turkish counterpart President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday and expressed his condolences on behalf of the Israeli people.

In addition to the official state delegation to Turkey, Israeli aid and emergency organizations are also readying aid to Turkey.

“We are arriving when there’s still a chance to find people alive”
Members of the Israeli delegation to Turkey land in Adana, Turkey, before heading the disaster zone. Photo courtesy of the Israeli Foreign Ministry

As reported, SmartAID-Magen Search and Rescue, a team of 25 search and rescue experts to Gaziantep on Monday afternoon with specialized equipment to find and rescue people trapped beneath collapsed buildings.  

Humanitarian aid NGO, IsraAID also sent out a team of eight people, including a water, sanitation and hygiene expert, a logistics expert and a mental health and psychosocial support specialist.

“We’re flying with a cargo load of emergency relief items to be distributed, including water filters, hygiene kits, resilience kits and warm winter items, as there’s still snow on the ground amid all the chaos,” Shachar May from IsraAID told ISRAEL21c.

“The initial set-up mission lasts two weeks, during which we’ll distribute emergency items and conduct a rapid assessment of the needs on the ground, laying the groundwork for a wider, long-term response,” she added.

Monday was not the first time Israel sent an aid delegation to Turkey following a deadly quake. In 1999, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake rocked the Marmara area of Turkey, leaving some 18,000 people dead and more than 40,000 people injured. Israel sent over an IDF Home Front Command search and rescue delegation that was lauded for its efforts. 

Since Monday’s earthquake, Israel has begun a review of its own earthquake-preparedness. In 2021 , experts warned that a major earthquake in Israel was likely within the next decade.

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