Af­ter IS, Da­m­as­cus res­i­dents blocked from go­ing home

Oman Daily Observer - - REGION -

DA­M­AS­CUS: Abu Mo­hammed thought he could fi­nally go home af­ter the mil­i­tants were ex­pelled from his Da­m­as­cus sub­urb, but he says Syr­ian au­thor­i­ties have blocked his re­turn by wrongly clas­si­fy­ing his dwelling as un­fit to live in.

In May, Syr­ian forces turfed the IS group out of a chunk of the cap­i­tal’s south­ern Tadamun neigh­bour­hood with a cam­paign of air strikes and shelling.

For the first time in six years that meant full govern­ment con­trol was restored over the area, bring­ing with it a calm that sparked hopes of a home­com­ing.

But in­stead, Abu Mo­hammed and oth­ers from Tadamun com­plain, the au­thor­i­ties have deemed many res­i­dences un­fit, and are block­ing their own­ers from re­turn­ing ahead of a con­tro­ver­sial re­de­vel­op­ment plan.

Five months af­ter IS was forced out, regime bar­rages im­pede ac­cess to the for­mer IS strong­hold now un­der tight se­cu­rity, and an AFP team was un­able to en­ter.

At the last check­point, rub­ble blocked the road. The floors of a nearby build­ing lay pan­caked one on top of the other, and a hole was blown in the minaret of a mosque.

Abu Mo­hammed said he man­aged to see his home be­fore the state in­spec­tors ar­rived — and in­sisted it was still fine to live in de­spite the official rul­ing.

“There wasn’t even a bul­let hole. It had just been pil­laged,” he said, giv­ing a pseu­do­nym to avoid reprisals.

“It’s so un­fair for cit­i­zens who have waited for years (to re­turn) and al­ways stood by the state.”

An­other would-be re­turnee Oth­man al Ays­sami, 55, was in­dig­nant.

“Why can’t I and thou­sands of other res­i­dents go home?” asked the lawyer. “Af­ter the mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions ended, I en­tered the neigh­bour­hood ex­pect­ing huge dam­age,” he said.

But in his four-floor home, “only the win­dows were bro­ken”, said Ays­sami, with­out spec­i­fy­ing if his residence had been deemed un­fit. The neigh­bour­hood of Tadamun has long been in a grey zone.

Once or­chards, it has been pop­u­lated since the late 1960s by peo­ple who fled the Is­raeli-oc­cu­pied Golan Heights or flooded into Da­m­as­cus from the coun­try­side, of­ten with­out official per­mis­sion to build there.

But to­day its fate seems par­tic­u­larly un­cer­tain af­ter pro­vin­cial au­thor­i­ties last month an­nounced it would be af­fected by a con­tro­ver­sial de­vel­op­ment law.

Chil­dren walk in a nar­row street in Tadamun neigh­bour­hood near the Pales­tinian Yar­muk camp in the south of Da­m­as­cus. — AFP

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