Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Benedict XVI today launched an appeal for support for relief efforts for the Turkish population affected by a severe earthquake. "At this time - he said during the Liturgy of the Word celebrated in the Vatican today - our thoughts go to the people of Turkey hardest hit by the earthquake, which has caused heavy loss of life, many missing and extensive damage. '" The Pontiff continued: "I invite you to join me in prayer for those who have lost their lives and to be spiritually close to those many people so sorely tried. May the Almighty support all those engaged in rescue work. "
The latest official figures, published this morning, speaks of 461 dead, 325 injured and hospitalized. Rescuers have worked hard all night, and more than 67 hours after the earthquake struck two people were extracted from the rubble still alive: an 18 year-old university student and an English teacher of 27, Gozde Bahar (pictured), whose conditions are very serious, due to a cardiac arrest suffered during transport to hospital. The rescue of the woman is probably destined to be the last for this earthquake: a source among aid workers at the Van centre, the capital of the province affected by the earthquake, reported that " recovery operations have ended" and that there is no longer any hope of finding people alive under the rubble.
Meanwhile, the Turkish government has changed its mind and decided to accept offers of help from several countries, including Israel, to meet the emergency needs caused by the devastating earthquake that struck the south-east of the country. In a statement the Foreign Ministry said that the needs are limited to tents and prefabricated houses, because hundreds of people have lost their homes. 2,256 buildings were destroyed most of them private apartments. Ankara has however, rejected of foreign rescue teams, with the exception of personnel from Azerbaijan and Iran, who are already working in disaster areas of the province of Van.
In what may be termed "rescue diplomacy" an Israeli military plane travelled to Turkey today with first aid materials for the earthquake-stricken population. This was announced by the Israeli armed forces radio. On board there are several structures for prefabricated buildings. Other prefabricated buildings will be sent to Turkey in the coming days, by both military aircraft, and sea. The assent of Turkey to receive aid from Israel - despite the state of strong diplomatic tension between the two countries – came overnight and immediately Defence Minister Ehud Barak ordered emergency aid be sent. From the Turkish side, according to press reports, it was nevertheless clear that practical help are welcome, but Turkey would prefer not to resort to accepting the aid of the Israeli military on the ground, even though they have a considerable experience in helping people remain trapped in the debris. The Israeli press believes that sending aid to earthquake victims in Turkey will have no impact on the political tension between the two countries. "Our relations with Turkey are not good, but we must still strive to improve them," claimed Amos Gilad, a political adviser to Barak.