Ankara Turns Down Israeli, International Offers of Aid After Deadly Earthquake

Up to 1,000 feared dead as temblor measuring 7.2 strikes eastern Turkey.

Despite the deep rift in Israeli-Turkish relations, Israel yesterday offered to send Turkey humanitarian aid and rescue squads to help it deal with the powerful earthquake that hit that country's east yesterday. Officials fear there could be up to 1,000 people killed in the quake, which hit the country's Van province.

The quake destroyed dozens of buildings, trapping some victims alive under rubble. As night fell, survivors and emergency workers battled to pull people out of the debris in the city of Van and town of Ercis, where a student dormitory collapsed. Residents in Van joined in a frantic search, using hands and shovels and working under floodlights and flashlights, hearing voices of survivors crying for help under mounds of shattered concrete in pitch darkness and bitter cold.

Turkey quake - AP - Oct. 23, 2011

Despite the frantic search and rescue efforts, Turkey turned down Israel's offer, as well as similar offers from several other countries.

Ankara issued a statement saying that the extent of the damage was still being investigated and that no international aid was immediately needed.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz nonetheless ordered search-and-rescue units to start preparing, just in case.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said a dozen buildings collapsed in Van, an ancient city with a population of 1 million. Turkish media said 80 buildings, including a student dormitory, came down in Ercis, a city of 100,000 people near the Iranian border. As of press time, the confirmed death toll from the quake was 85 and quickly approaching triple digits.

A nurse at a public hospital in Ercis said hospital workers were attending the wounded in the hospital garden because the building was badly damaged.

"We can't count dead or injured because we're not inside the hospital. There should be more than 100 dead bodies left next to the hospital. We left them there because it's dark and we didn't want to step on bodies," she told CNN Turk television.

Within hours of the quake, Israel's Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry offered Ankara assistance. Israel's embassy made a similar offer to Turkey's Foreign Ministry, as did Home Front Minister Matan Vilnai.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was interested in helping Turkey, just as Turkey had come to Israel's aid to help battle the devastating Carmel fire in December, when it sent firefighting planes despite the tensions between the two countries.

"I hope Turkey will respond to our offer and accept the aid we are proffering," Netanyahu said.

President Shimon Peres telephoned his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, and told him Israel was willing to offer any assistance, anywhere in Turkey, at any time, a statement from Peres' office read.

He said he was making the offer "as human being, as a Jew and as an Israeli," and cited the "historic relations between the two peoples."

Gul thanked Peres, but said he hoped that "at this stage" Turkey would be able to handle the search-and-rescue effort on its own.

In August 1999, an earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale hit northeastern Turkey, killing some 18,000 people.

A Home Front Command mission was rushed to the scene then and IDF rescuers pulled 12 people out of the rubble alive, while medical personnel treated dozens of wounded.