The Damascus governorate is continuing its demolition of buildings in the Tadhamon neighbourhood. The lack of clarity regarding the legal bases for these demolitions and the fact that most property owners remain displaced threaten residents’ housing, land, and property rights.
Al-Tadhamon lies six kilometres southeast of the Damascus city centre and is considered the southern gateway to the capital. Following the 1967 war with Israel, thousands of Syrians were displaced from the Golan Heights and Quneitra to Al-Tadhamon. There, they built houses in an informal manner on agricultural land.
According to a local correspondent for The Syria Report, there are credible estimates that over 300 buildings have been demolished in various parts of Al-Tadhamon since the regime regained control of the neighbourhood in 2018.
Residents told The Syria Report that the recent demolitions were concentrated in the area around the Salman Al-Farsi Mosque at the intersection of Balour Al-Shahbaa and Al-Spourat Streets. The area was a military defence zone during the period of opposition control in 2012-2015 then during Islamic State control in 2015-2018. Since 2018, the Damascus governorate has demolished dozens of buildings spanning from this area to Palestine Street, which neighbours the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp.
Opposition forces dug over 20 tunnels under the area around the Salman Al-Farsi Mosque to use for military operations, a former military source from one of the Tadhamon opposition factions told The Syria Report. The source did not deny that the tunnels could potentially loosen the ground beneath the area and harm building foundations. However, he alleged that the Damascus governorate is working under security and military orders to demolish the entire area in order to fill in the tunnels and prevent their future use, rather than ensure the structural safety of buildings.
Some witnesses explained the slow pace of the demolition campaign as a tactic by the governorate to avoid provoking property owners. Others attributed the slow demolition progress to the governorate’s poor financial and logistical capabilities. In any case, the campaign does appear organised and ongoing, and has resulted in the razing of a large swathe of multi-storey buildings.
Despite the slow pace of the campaign, there have been specific periods during which the demolitions increased markedly. In early 2020, eight buildings and seven multi-storey homes in the Al-Shawam neighbourhood of southeastern Tadhamon were detonated in one blow under the pretext that there were tunnels beneath them. However, Al-Shawam was never a frontline between regime and opposition forces, so there is little reason for tunnels to exist underneath, according to the opposition military source.
Meanwhile the Damascus governorate continues to remove the rubble left behind by its demolition work, transferring it to the Tubab area of Al-Tadhamon. Regime forces detonated and destroyed Al-Tubab in early 2013. The area was filled with old informal housing structures that were built without observing construction safety codes. Most of them lacked proper foundations. Residents were mostly low-level public sector employees, with a large portion of them working in the police force.
The former governor of Damascus formed a committee in July 2018 to implement Law No. 3 of 2018 in order to remove and recycle rubble and determine which buildings were safely habitable in the Tadhamon neighbourhood. In October 2018, the committee concluded that there were 690 habitable homes which residents could safely return to on a temporary basis; however, not until all of Al-Tadhamon was zoned under Decree No. 10 of 2018, which stipulates that at least one zoned area may be created within the general zoning plan.
After widespread opposition from the few remaining residents who were supported by the local National Defence militia, the governorate reneged in 2020. It divided Al-Tadhamon into three sectors – A, B and C – in order to study the engineering condition of real estate there. The governorate eventually found 2,500 habitable homes and around 1,000 uninhabitable homes in sectors A and B. However, it deemed sector C, which represents the southern part of Al-Tadhamon, to be uninhabitable and highly damaged.
The governorate recently permitted some displaced families to return to their homes in sector B for the first time. The returnees were required to first submit an application that included proof of ownership and to obtain security approval from the local branch of Military Intelligence, which controls the neighbourhood. Those who returned to sector B suffered a lack of public services such as water, electricity, and sewage networks. Homeowners who needed to restore their damaged houses were also required to apply for restoration permits from the Tadhamon municipality.
Many women are not granted the security approval to return to Al-Tadhamon if they have a male family member, such as a husband or son, who participated in opposition activities. This prohibition is automatic, as the security apparatus does not examine whether or not the woman approves or disapproves of her family members’ political or military activity.