After IS, Damascus suburb residents blocked from going home
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
- 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.