At least 11 Lebanese people have been confirmed dead in last week’s earthquake, which so far has claimed more than 35,000 lives in Turkey and Syria, according to a count based on official statements and family members.
That number is expected to rise as more than a dozen Lebanese people remain missing.
While Moallem said it is still “early to establish an official death toll,” the relatives of a Lebanese family residing in the Turkish town of Samandag reported Sunday that several of their loved ones had died.
A family of five was added to the list of victims, L’Orient-Le Jour correspondent Michel Hallak reported on Sunday.
In neighboring Syria, search operations and humanitarian aid are being delivered.
On Sunday, Hezbollah announced that it sent an aid convoy to Latakia on the Syrian coast.
“It is natural that Lebanon and the resistance stand by the Syrian people’s side,” party official Hashem Safieddine stated via the pro-Hezbollah Al-Manar TV channel. The Iran-aligned party is an ally of Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Civil Defense forces delivered Italian aid to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent that arrived in Beirut.
Lebanese in Turkey
According to Moallem, 130 registered Lebanese residing in areas affected by the earthquake are alive. However, the situation is unclear for those not registered with the embassy.
“Communication with them was difficult because we don’t have any data,” said the ambassador. “We still cannot provide an official number of people [deceased], given that those who were in the devastated area were not registered with the embassy,” said Moallem.
“We are relying on the relatives or friends of the missing Lebanese to get news of them,” he added.
Three deaths were officially recorded among unregistered Lebanese citizens in Turkey.
“There was Dr. Wissam al-Assaad, who was buried two days ago in his Akkar village of Wadi Khaled. We are currently trying to repatriate the body of Suzanne al-Assaad. We can help all those requesting that their loved ones be repatriated to Lebanon,” said Mohammad Kheir, head of Lebanon’s Higher Relief Committee.
Lebanon’s embassy in Turkey and the Higher Relief Committee are still working with Turkey’s AFAD disaster relief authority “as well as with the relatives of the missing” to find Lebanese citizens who are still missing, Kheir said, “so as to rescue them.”
“Some of them are in hotels, others are living in this [affected] part of Turkey, others were there for tourism,” added Kheir.
Another issue is that some families had notified the Lebanese authorities of their relatives' presence in Turkey but did not update them of their safe return home to Lebanon, according to Kheir.
“There were reports of 70 people missing, and after checking, it turned out that about 20 of them were not Lebanese,” said Moallem, who stated that efforts were sent to help them.
Moallem said that “the embassy is still seeking information about the 50 people who are still missing to confirm whether they are Lebanese and to contact their relatives.”
Among the 50 missing are Mohammad al-Mohammad and Elias Haddad, he said.
Their friend Bassel Habkouk was rescued from under the rubble of the Ozcan Hotel in Antakya on Wednesday morning, he recalled. Moallem assured that search and rescue teams are still on the site.
More than 150 hours have passed since the tragedy struck last Monday and hopes of finding survivors is fading.
“We can only confirm the fate of the Lebanese, whether they are injured or dead, after receiving official notification from the Turkish authorities,” said Moallem.
“So far, three deaths [of Lebanese in Turkey] have been officially confirmed, to which the [five] victims of the Khalaf family would be added if their deaths were officially confirmed, which would only happen at an advanced stage,” he noted.
Moallem said it is too early to establish an official death toll. So far, at least 11 Lebanese lost their lives in Syria and Turkey, according to L’Orient-Le Jour’s count.
Lebanese in Syria
Progress of relief efforts and statistics in Syria remain unclear.
“We are working to help the Lebanese in the affected areas, but there is a lack of information,” said Kheir.
“It is very difficult to have an accurate figure on the Lebanese living in the affected Syrian areas because relations with Syria are different from those with Turkey, where Lebanese are usually expatriates who work and are registered at the embassy,” said a source close to the Lebanese Embassy in Syria.
This is because many of these individuals are dual nationals (Lebanese-Syrian). Due to the relations and proximity between the two countries, Lebanese do not typically register with the embassy when they travel to Syria.
Among the confirmed deaths of Lebanese citizens are a Lebanese-Syrian mother and her daughter who were buried in Syria, and a Lebanese priest in Aleppo whose body has since been repatriated to Lebanon.
A list of more than a dozen missing Lebanese citizens circulated on social media two days ago.
“We have not been able to confirm any of the names that are circulating,” added the source.
They added that the Lebanese embassy in Syria helped repatriate a Lebanese family who survived the earthquake and lost their home.
Aid sent via Lebanon
Emergency aid has been pouring into Turkey and parts of Syria over the past week. Lebanon is also providing assistance to the two countries hit by the disaster. In the aftermath of the earthquake, Lebanon sent dozens of rescue workers to Turkey and Syria, many of whom are still there. An additional delegation of rescue workers affiliated with the Islamic Scouts of Lebanon flew to Turkey on Saturday morning.
The Civil Defense teams sent to Syria and Turkey have since returned from their mission, according to army and civil defense spokespeople. The rescue workers were accompanied by members of the Lebanese Army, the Beirut Fire Department and the Lebanese Red Cross.
Last week, 20 Civil Defense members were sent to Elbistan, a town in Turkey’s Kahramanmaraş province. An additional 20 were sent to Jableh, near Latakia in Syria.
According to Elie Khairallah, a spokesperson for the Lebanese Civil Defense, the teams were tasked with rescuing people from under the rubble using drones, thermal cameras and sonar sensors.
“To cope with the disaster, Civil Defense teams forwarded to Syria on Sunday the Italian donations received in Beirut,” said e Civil Defense head Georges Kettaneh. The donations were handed to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, he added, noting that additional aid expected to arrive soon will also be delivered to Syria.