Bull­doz­ers scoop slow way to re­cov­ery in Yar­muk

Oman Daily Observer - - REGION -

YAR­MUK: Not far from where he used to live, Pales­tinian engi­neer Mah­mud Khaled watched as bull­doz­ers rum­bled back and forth scoop­ing up smashed con­crete from the dev­as­tated streets of Syria’s Yar­muk.

Once home to 160,000 Pales­tinian refugees, the camp in the Da­m­as­cus sub­urbs has been be­sieged, emp­tied of its in­hab­i­tants and pounded to rub­ble in Syria’s seven-year war.

But five months af­ter regime forces ex­pelled the last mil­i­tants in the area, sol­diers now stand guard at the camp’s en­trance, wear­ing face masks to pro­tect them­selves against the dust bil­low­ing up into the air.

On a nar­row street in­side the camp where he grew up, Khaled has re­turned to help over­see bull­doz­ers and dig­gers en­gaged in joint Pales­tinian-syr­ian clean-up op­er­a­tions.

“When we first en­tered, we were hor­ri­fied by what we saw,” said the 56-year-old engi­neer, wear­ing a light grey and white check­ered shirt.

“But af­ter we started the clean-up, it all started to look up,” Khaled said.

Off Yar­muk’s main artery, re­cently cleared side streets are flanked by build­ings rav­aged by years of fight­ing.

Some have been re­duced to moun­tains of grey rub­ble and man­gled re­bar. In oth­ers, en­tire floors dan­gle dan­ger­ously down­wards, their steel rods jut­ting out.

“We have shifted 50,000 cu­bic me­tres of rub­ble and re­opened all the main roads,” Khaled said.

But “it will be a while be­fore fam­i­lies can come back”, he added.

As Khaled sur­veyed the neigh­bour­hood, a yel­low bull­dozer spilled rub­ble into a large red truck be­hind him.

Walk­ing through the camp, he pointed out his for­mer home and the of­fice where he used to work. The first had been dam­aged in fight­ing, while the sec­ond was com­pletely de­stroyed.

Set up in 1957 to house Pales­tinian refugees, Yar­muk grew over the decades into a bustling dis­trict of the cap­i­tal.

But the area has seen some of the worst suf­fer­ing since Syria’s con­flict erupted in 2011, and to­day lies largely aban­doned.

In 2012, around 140,000 res­i­dents fled clashes be­tween the regime and rebels, leav­ing the rest to face se­vere food short­ages un­der govern­ment siege.

Two years later, a har­row­ing pho­to­graph of gaunt-look­ing res­i­dents mass­ing be­tween bombed-out build­ings to re­ceive aid sparked global out­rage.

The IS group over­ran parts of Yar­muk in 2015, bring­ing fur­ther suf­fer­ing to the area’s re­main­ing res­i­dents. Since regime forces ex­pelled IS in May, the United Na­tions agency for Pales­tinian refugees (UNRWA) said no res­i­dents have been al­lowed to re­turn.

With about a fifth of Yar­muk re­duced to rub­ble, ac­cord­ing to an ini­tial es­ti­mate, Khaled said there is still much work to be done.

And al­though he es­ti­mates 40 per cent of the build­ings could be lived in, an­other 40 per cent need ma­jor work be­fore their res­i­dents can re­turn.

When he vis­ited the camp in May, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gun­ness de­scribed it as ly­ing “in ru­ins”.


Dam­aged build­ings are seen in Rama Street in the Yar­muk Pales­tinian refugee camp on the south­ern out­skirts of Da­m­as­cus.

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