JERUSALEM (JTA) – Turkey has rejected all international aid, including an Israeli offer, in the wake of a strong earthquake that collapsed buildings and left hundreds dead.
Sunday’s temblor, which measured 7.3 on the Richter scale and was centered in southeastern Turkey, was felt in central Tel Aviv, Haaretz reported. At least 239 people are confirmed dead, with many others reportedly trapped in collapsed buildings.
"The State of Israel shares in your sorrow following the earthquake that has claimed victims from among your people," Israeli President Shimon Peres said Sunday in a call to Turkish President Abdullah Gul. "I speak as a man, as a Jew and as an Israeli who remembers, and is well aware of, the depth of the historic relations between our two peoples, and thus I send the condolences of the entire nation to the families of those who lost their lives. At this difficult time, the State of Israel is ready to render any assistance that may be required anywhere in Turkey, at any time."
Gul thanked Peres for the telephone call, the expression of condolences and the offer of assistance, according to the President’s Office, and said that he hoped Turkish search and rescue could handle the emergency alone. Diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey are now nearly nonexistent.
Israel’s Defense Ministry and foreign minister had been in contact with Turkish officials Sunday in order to offer assistance. An Israel Defense Forces search-and-rescue delegation is prepared to leave for Turkey if it is called upon, according to reports.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has begun collecting funds for Turkish relief efforts and is working with local partners — including Turkey’s Jewish community — to ensure that victims’ immediate needs are addressed. JDC’s past humanitarian interventions in Turkey have included the provision of aid and training after earthquakes in 2010 and 1999.
Diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey have deteriorated since nine Turkish nationals, including a Turkish-American dual citizen, were killed in May 2010 during an Israeli raid on a Turkish-flagged aid flotilla attempting to break Israel’s naval blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Turkey has demanded an Israeli apology for the deaths and compensation to the victims’ families.
Israel has offered its "regret" for the deaths, and has said that its naval commandos fired in self-defense. Relations had been going downhill since the 2008-09 Gaza war.
Turkey sent several firefighting airplanes to Israel last December to help battle the massive Carmel Forest fire.