VIOLENT clashes and gunfire between “rival factions” have halted rescue efforts in quake-hit Turkey – as looters run amok in devastated cities.
Multiple aide organisations had to suspend operations due to security fears after gunfire was reported in the disaster zone.
German rescuers and the Austrian army reported clashes between unnamed armed factions, which are expected to become more violent as food supplies decrease in coming days.
Reports of mass arrests for looting in the aftermath of the disaster have made headlines, and several guns have been seized from criminals, according to local media.
Austrian Army Spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Pierre Kugelweis told BBC News: “There is increasing aggression between factions in Turkey.
“The chances of saving a life bears no reasonable relation to the safety risk.
“There are increasing reports of clashes between different groups, and shots are said to have been fired.”
After the terrifying skirmishes, the Turkish army reportedly offered protection to aide groups, allowing the rescue missions to continue.
Turkish media reported that upwards of 50 people have been arrested for looting.
Hatay, in southern Turkey, has seen an influx of criminal activity, with the thiefs carting away smartphones, computers, guns and other goods.
Some shopkeepers are on guard and hunting down the selfish looters as they struggle to recover from the earthquake.
Hatay resident Aylin Kabasakal said she is frustrated as the homes in her city are ravaged by criminals in the wake of destruction.
She said: “We’re guarding our homes, our cars. The looters are looting our homes.
“There’s nothing left to say, unfortunately. We’re destroyed, we’re shaken. What we have gone through is a nightmare.”
Guns, cash, jewellery and bank cards were seized from the looters, according to reports.
Mehmet Bok, 26, was searching for a colleauge in the city of Antakya when he witnessed looters.
He said: “People were smashing the windows and fences of shops and cars.”
Turkish President Recep Erdogan hasn’t commented on the unrest in Hatay, but has said he will take action against looters in the regions affected by the deadly quake.
The Sun’s Earthquake Appeal has so far raised £900,000, to supply desperately needed food, hygiene kits, blankets and tents.