Syrian official says 73 dead after migrant boat sinks

DAMASCUS, Syria – The death toll from the sinking of a boat carrying migrants from Lebanon in Syrian waters has risen to at least 73, state television quoted the Syrian health minister as saying on Friday.

Syrian authorities say some family members of the victims have begun crossing into Syria from neighboring Lebanon to help identify their loved ones and retrieve their bodies.

The incident was the most serious since large numbers of Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians tried to flee crisis-affected Lebanon by sea to Europe. In Lebanon alone, tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs and the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value, wiping out the purchasing power of thousands of families currently living in extreme poverty.

Health Minister Mohammed Hassan Ghabbash was quoted as saying that 20 people had been rescued and were being treated at al-Basel hospital in the Syrian coastal city of Tartus. He added that health authorities have been on alert since Thursday afternoon to help with search operations.

Earlier on Friday, Tartus governor Abdul-Halim Khalil told pro-government Sham FM that a search was underway to find more bodies off the coast of his country. Khalil said the boat sank two days earlier.

A Syrian port official told state news agency SANA that 31 bodies had been washed ashore and that the rest had been recovered by Syrian boats that began a search operation on Thursday evening.

Thousands of Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians have left Lebanon on boats in recent months in search of better opportunities in Europe.

Lebanon has a population of 6 million, including 1 million Syrian refugees, and has experienced a severe economic crisis since late 2019 that has plunged more than three-quarters of the population into poverty.

In April, a boat carrying dozens of Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians trying to emigrate by sea to Italy crashed more than 5 kilometers (three miles) from the port of Tripoli, following a confrontation with the Lebanese navy. Dozens of people were killed in the incident.

The migrants have left the country from Lebanon’s north coast, the impoverished part of the small country.

On Wednesday, Lebanese officials said naval forces rescued a boat carrying 55 migrants after it experienced technical problems about seven miles off the northern Akkar coast. It said those rescued included two pregnant women and two children.

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