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Death toll rises to 77 in migrant boat accident off Syrian coast




At least 77 people were killed in the disaster involving the sinking of a boat carrying immigrants off the Syrian coast. The boat originally departed from Lebanon.
Illegal immigration is not a new phenomenon in Lebanon, however, its pace increased in light of the economic collapse that has afflicted the country for nearly three years, and which prompted many Lebanese, and Syrian and Palestinian refugees, to risk their lives in search of new beginnings.
On Thursday, the Syrian authorities found dozens of bodies off the coastal city of Tartus, while twenty people were rescued from the boat that sailed from northern Lebanon. Estimates of the number of its passengers ranged between 100 and 150.
The Syrian Minister of Health, Hassan Al-Ghabash, announced in statements to reporters, carried by Syrian TV, that the death toll had risen to 77, while 20 people, including eight in intensive care, were receiving treatment at Al-Basel Hospital in Tartous.
The death toll has risen successively since the announcement of the sinking of the boat Thursday afternoon.
Searches for missing persons are still ongoing, and members of the Russian navy have participated in them along with the Syrian navy, according to Al-Ghabash.
"We are dealing with one of the largest rescue operations, on an area that extends along the entire Syrian coast," said Suleiman Khalil, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Transport, noting that the search operations are continuing, but "it becomes more difficult with the passage of time because of the high waves."
On Thursday afternoon, a young man was found near the ships anchored off the port of the Syrian island of Arwad, so a boat was sent to the place, after which the body of a child was found, before "the bodies of the victims began to appear," according to what the Director General of Syrian Ports Samer Qebrosli said in a statement Thursday.
Most of the victims were found off the island of Arwad and the shores of Tartus.
- Funeral of the victims -
On Friday, families in Lebanon began the funeral of the victims, including the Talawi family, whose son Wissam was rescued and is currently receiving treatment in a Tartous hospital, while his two daughters (five and nine years old) died and his wife and two other children are still missing.
The family received, according to Wissam's brother Ahmed, the body of the two girls, and they were buried in their birthplace in the Akkar region (north).
"We woke up and didn't find my brother, who works in a cleaning company," Ahmed told AFP by phone. "He couldn't make ends meet," so he went in search of another life.
The identity of the majority of the bodies has not yet been identified, according to the Lebanese Minister of Public Works, Ali Hamiyah, because no identification papers were found.

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