A photo taken with a drone shows emergency services working among the rubble of collapsed buildings in the aftermath of a powerful earthquake in Kahramanmaras, southeastern Turkey, on Thursday. More than 20,000 people have died after two major earthquakes struck southern Turkey and northern Syria. Photo by Abir Sultan/EPA-EFE
Feb. 10 (UPI) -- The United States on Thursday announced $85 million in aid for Turkey and U.S. partner organizations in Syria after devastating earthquakes this week left more than 20,000 people dead.
The funds will be provided through the U.S. Agency for International Development, which is also providing emergency food and shelter for displaced people, winter supplies, healthcare services and safe drinking water.
"Within hours of the first quake, the United States, at the direction of President [Joe] Biden, quickly mobilized federal agencies and partners to urgently provide life-saving assistance in close coordination with our Turkish Allies and partner organizations in Syria," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Thursday.
"Since Monday, supplementing the excellent work of our Embassy and Consulate teams, hundreds of additional U.S. personnel have arrived in the region to help save lives and assist those in need."
Blinken added that a disaster response team from USAID is "already hard at work" in southern Turkey, where "highly trained" teams are helping Turkish rescue efforts.
"U.S. helicopters are conducting airlift operations, transporting rescue personnel to sites where they are needed most," Blinken said in the statement.
"We are grateful to the Government of Turkey for re-opening the border so aid can flow into northwest Syria."
Blinken also praised the United Nations after its first shipment of humanitarian aid reached northwest Syria through Turkey on Thursday.
"We call on the Assad regime to immediately allow aid in through all border crossings; allow the distribution of aid to all affected areas; and to let humanitarians access all people in Syria who are in need, without exception," Blinken said.
"In both Turkey and Syria, the United States will remain committed to doing whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to provide necessary assistance to those impacted by these earthquakes."
Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, said during a press briefing Thursday that the United States is not considering lifting sanctions on Syria despite the crisis in the country.
"There are many hurdles to overcome when providing humanitarian assistance in Syria and especially after devastating earthquakes this week, but our Syrian sanctions policy is not among them," Price said.
When asked for further comment by reporters, Price added that the United States has been working with partner organizations in Syria since the start of the Syrian civil war.
"We've provided some $15 billion to Syrians in Syria and to Syrians in the region who have been forced to flee in some cases," Price said.
Price added that it is "incumbent on the Syrian regime to allow that humanitarian access" and that U.S. sanctions on Syria "do not target humanitarian aid."
"Our sanctions have longstanding authorizations, longstanding carveouts, to see to it that humanitarian aid is allowed to go into Syria," Price said, adding that the United States "in some cases" granted additional authorizations to make it clear that humanitarian aid is allowed to flow into Syria.
His comments came as the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control issued a Syria General License 23 on Thursday, which "authorizes for 180 days all transactions related to earthquake relief that would be otherwise prohibited by the Syrian Sanctions Regulations."
"As international allies and humanitarian partners mobilize to help those affected, I want to make very clear that U.S. sanctions in Syria will not stand in the way of life-saving efforts for the Syrian people," said Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo.
"While U.S. sanctions programs already contain robust exemptions for humanitarian efforts, today Treasury is issuing a blanket General License to authorize earthquake relief efforts so that those providing assistance can focus on what's needed most: saving lives and rebuilding."
Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said Wednesday that the Defense Department has also responded to requests by the Turkish government for earthquake relief.
Ryder said that U.S. helicopters based at Incirlik Airbase in Turkey have helped transport first responders to areas most affected by the earthquakes.
"In addition, DOD transported two civilian urban search and rescue teams from the United States to Turkey," Ryder said.
"U.S. Transportation Command supported this movement Tuesday via C-17 from Dover Air Force Base and March Air Force Base to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. Those teams arrived Feb. 8 and will soon begin aiding the relief efforts there."