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Death toll hits 33,000 in Turkey, Syria earthquake

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The death toll from a catastrophic earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria climbed to 33,000 on Sunday, with the United Nations warning that the final number may double, Agence France-Presse reported.

Officials and medics said 29,605 people had died in Turkey and 3,574 in Syria from Monday’s 7.8-magnitude tremor, bringing the confirmed total to 33,179.

Turkey’s disaster agency on Saturday said nearly 32,000 people from Turkish bodies are working on search and rescue efforts. In addition, there are 8,294 international rescuers.

However, Austrian soldiers on Saturday suspended rescue operations in Hatay over a “worsening security situation,” an army spokesman told AFP. Two dog handlers later resumed work under protection of the Turkish army.

A similar decision to halt rescue operations was taken in Germany by the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (TSW) and an NGO specializing in helping victims of natural disasters, ISAR Germany, according to an NGO spokesman.

“There are more and more reports of clashes between different factions, shots have also been fired,” said ISAR spokesman Stefan Heine.

The UN rights office had on Friday urged all actors in the affected area — where Kurdish militants and Syrian rebels operate — to allow humanitarian access.

The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is considered a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies, announced a temporary halt in fighting to ease recovery work.

 Medical aid for Aleppo

In Syria, where years of conflict have ravaged the healthcare system and parts of the country remain under the control of rebels, aid has been slow to arrive.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus arrived on Saturday in the quake-stricken city of Aleppo, state media reported.

Tedros said he was accompanying “emergency medical supplies of around 37 metric tons.”

The Syrian government said it had approved the delivery of humanitarian assistance to quake-hit areas outside its control.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged the Security Council to authorize the opening of new cross-border humanitarian aid points between Turkey and Syria. The council will meet to discuss Syria, possibly early next week.

Turkey said it was working on opening two new routes into rebel-held parts of Syria.

The winter freeze has left thousands of people either spending nights in their cars or huddling around makeshift fires that have become ubiquitous across the quake-hit region.

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