Amid heavy media coverage, a handful of families finally returned home to the village of Al-Zara in the rural southern part of Hama governorate, three years after regime forces took back control of the area. Al-Zara is one of the smallest villages in the Hama governorate, though the Al-Zara Thermal Power Station was built near it. Only 1,000 people lived in the village according to the 2004 census. Most residents are from the Alawite sect.
The Hama governorate has begun work to partially rehabilitate service facilities in the village, such as electricity and water, receiving assistance and funding from local and international NGOs. Al-Zara is home to just one primary school and has no medical facilities.
Although Al-Zara is located within the Hama governorate, it is close to the Homs governorate, just five kilometres west of Rastan. The village became a frontline during the war after opposition factions belonging to the Northern Homs Countryside Operations Room took control in 2016 amid reports of massacres against its remaining residents.
Regime forces recaptured Al-Zara in 2018, but the scale of the destruction of homes and infrastructure prevented displaced residents from returning. Despite recent talk of reconstruction in the village, sources told The Syria Report that Al-Zara today remains mostly rubble.
Since 2018, residents of Al-Zara have not been permitted to return to the village without security approval. An exception was made for some members of the National Defence Forces, a pro-government militia, who visit Al-Zara in the daytime and leave at night to ensure that work continues on their farmlands.
According to a July report by state-run news agency SANA, only 16 families have returned home to Al-Zara, though that number is expected to rise to 40 in the coming months.
Residents do not appear enthusiastic to return home, as many of them found employment in Damascus and Homs since being displaced. Even before the war, the village was largely a vacation spot for its mostly elderly and retired residents to spend weekends and holidays. Most of today’s returnees are employees of the nearby thermal power station and the train station in the nearby town of Harbanfaseh in Homs governorate.