Af­ter IS, Da­m­as­cus sub­urb res­i­dents blocked from go­ing home

Manila Times - - Opinion -

DA­M­AS­CUS: Abu Mo­hammed thought - ists were ex­pelled from his Da­m­as­cus sub­urb, but he says Syr­ian au­thor­i­ties have blocked his re­turn by wrongly clas-

In May, regime forces turfed the Is­lamic State group out of a chunk of the cap­i­tal’s south­ern Tadamun neigh­bor­hood 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 resi-

own­ers from re­turn­ing ahead of a con­tro­ver­sial re­de­vel­op­ment plan.

Five months af­ter IS was forced out, regime bar­rages im­pede ac­cess to the for­mer ji­hadist 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

“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 neigh­bor­hood ex­pect­ing huge dam­age,” he said.

the win­dows were bro­ken,” said Ays­sami, with­out spec­i­fy­ing if his resi-

‘Right to go home’

The neigh­bor­hood of Tadamun has long been in a grey zone.

Once or­chards, it has been pop­u­lated since the late 1960s by peo­ple

from the coun­try­side, of­ten with­out

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

The law, known as De­cree 10, al­lows the gov­ern­ment to seize pri­vate prop­erty to create zoned de­vel­op­ments, com­pen­sat­ing own­ers with shares of the new projects.

If their land is se­lected, own­ers in­evitably lose their prop­erty and must ap­ply to re­ceive shares in ex­change.

Con­struc­tion is not set to start in Tadamun for sev­eral years, but of-

to in­spect its homes.

A pro­vin­cial com­mis­sion has been charged with eval­u­at­ing dam­age and rat­ing whether around 25,000 res­i­den­tial units are fit for hu­man habi­ta­tion.

Even if their homes are de­clared up to stan­dard, no res­i­dent can move back un­til fur­ther no­tice.

When they re­al­ized that a

Red wax

large

- ing, mem­bers of the com­mu­nity held sev­eral meet­ings with the com­mis­sion.

To vent their frus­tra­tion, they set up a Face­book page named “The Tadamun Ex­iles.”

“It’s our right to go home,” wrote one dis­placed res­i­dent. The com­mis­sion has split up the neigh­bor­hood into three sec­tors, the last cov­er­ing the area that IS once con­trolled. Com­mis­sion head Faisal Srour told

- tors “have vis­ited 10,000 homes un­til

in and 1,000 are not.”

The re­main­der were still be­ing clas-

for­mer ji­hadist sec­tor were likely to

“That’s where the he said.

Tadamun was over­run by rebels in 2012, then part of it fell three years later to the ji­hadists of IS.

Over the years, most res­i­dents were fight­ing hap­pened,”

65,000 peo­ple live there to­day, com­pared to 250,000 be­fore the out­break of the war in 2011.

Homes that are de­clared fit for habi­ta­tion are given a se­rial num­ber

in­sist that the own­ers can re­claim them eas­ily.

A res­i­dent can “get (their house) back nor­mally af­ter prov­ing own­er­ship,” Tadamun mayor Ahmed Iskan­dar told AFP, talk­ing by a por­trait of Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad in mil­i­tary uni­form and sun­glasses.

But be­cause Tadamun is an in­for­mal neigh­bor­hood, only 10 per­cent

prop­erty deeds — and that is if they have not been lost dur­ing the war. Most of the oth­ers from the area - ing res­i­dency.

Even for those who do man­age to re­turn, the respite ap­pears only tem­po­rary.

Even­tu­ally re­con­struc­tion, set to

the whole area razed to the ground.

Then too, no more than a tenth of the sub­urb’s pop­u­la­tion will ever be able to present prop­erty deeds to re­ceive shares in the re­con­struc­tion project.

But in­spec­tion com­mis­sion head Srour said those who could not prove own­er­ship — likely at least 90 per­cent of res­i­dents — would not be made home­less.

“We won’t throw peo­ple out into the street, but pro­vide them with com­pen­sa­tion or al­ter­na­tive hous­ing,” he said.

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