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Mayors of Paterson, Montvale and Prospect Park plead for U.S. to do more for earthquake victims in Syria

New Jersey mayors plead for U.S. to help earthquake victims in Syria
New Jersey mayors plead for U.S. to help earthquake victims in Syria 02:18

PATERSON, N.J. -- Three New Jersey mayors are pleading for the United States to do more to help earthquake victims in Syria.

The mayors of Paterson, Montvale and Prospect Park are all Syrian-American, and the civil war in their homeland is complicating relief efforts.

A U.S. relief flight carrying search-and-rescue teams, their dogs and supplies was on the ground in Turkey, a U.S. ally and member of NATO.

Turkey is the focus of the world's response to the Feb. 6 earthquake.

READ MORE: Turkey-Syria earthquakes death toll passes 20,000, worse than the Fukushima disaster

Some fear others are being forgotten across the border in northern Syria.

"There are villages that haven't been touched yet. There are hundreds and hundreds of missing people in each village," Prospect Park Mayor Mohamed Khairullah said.

Khairullah is a native of Aleppo, Syria. His childhood friend is missing in the earthquake zone.

Much of the zone is controlled by forces opposed to the brutal government of President Bashar al-Assad. Assad's United Nations ambassador insists the regime must control all earthquake aid.

"Without permission of the government, without approval from the government, this is violation," ambassador Bassam Sabbagh said.

Khairullah is urging the Biden administration to find ways to get earthquake aid directly to victims in Syria.

"Turkey has been a lifeline for northern Syria, and now the Turkish people are dealing with their own situation. So it is the obligation of the international community as a whole to step in," he said.

Between Turkey and Syria, the death toll has topped 21,000.

READ MORE: Queens family among over 20,000 killed in earthquakes in Turkey and Syria

It includes a Queens family of four who were visiting relatives when the earthquake struck. The father, Burak Firik, was a 2018 graduate of Columbia University.

"He was a loving, caring individual. He's a servant leader in our community, very involved in the Muslim community," said Ahmed Mohamed, with the Council on American-Islamic Relations in New York .

Satellite images drive home the extent of the destruction before and after the earthquake in Turkey and in Syria, where some entire neighborhoods have been leveled.

Syrian-Americans want the U.S. to identify aid groups they can donate money to without violating U.S. sanctions against the Assad regime. They're collecting relief supplies Saturday at a Prospect Park firehouse.

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