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Syria: 73 dead after the sinking of a migrant boat

DAMASCUS, Syria – The death toll from a boat carrying migrants from Lebanon that sank in Syrian waters has risen to at least 73, state television said on Friday quoting the Syrian Minister of Health.

Syrian authorities said some family members of the victims had started crossing into Syria from neighboring Lebanon to help identify their relatives and recover their bodies.

The incident is the deadliest since a growing number of Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians tried to flee crisis-stricken 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, eradicating the purchasing power of thousands of families who now live in extreme poverty.

Health Minister Mohammed Hassan Ghabbash reportedly said 20 people had been rescued alive and were receiving treatment at al-Basel hospital in the Syrian coastal town of Tartous. He added that medical authorities had been on alert since Thursday afternoon to help with search operations.

Earlier on Friday, Tartous Governor Abdul-Halim Khalil told pro-government Sham FM that the search for new bodies was continuing 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 were washed ashore and the rest were picked up by Syrian boats which 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 6 million inhabitants, including 1 million Syrian refugees, and has been in the grip of a serious economic crisis since the end of 2019 which has plunged more than three quarters of the population into poverty.

In April, a boat carrying dozens of Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians trying to migrate by sea to Italy sank more than five kilometers from the port of Tripoli, following a clash with the Lebanese navy. Dozens of people were killed in the incident.

Migrants leave the country from the northern coast of Lebanon, the poorest region of the small country.

On Wednesday, Lebanese officials said naval forces rescued a boat carrying 55 migrants after encountering technical problems about 11 kilometers off the coast of the northern Akkar region. He said those rescued included two pregnant women and two children.

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