After IS, Damascus residents blocked from going home
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