In early June, the Hama governorate coordinated with the Salamieh City Council to pursue a wide-scale demolition operation targeting 58 estates in the city’s western neighbourhood. Buildings that violate construction rules, also called “building violations,” were removed in accordance with Decree No. 40 of 2012 and as part of an effort to hinder the construction of buildings that violate certain laws and regulations, according to the state-run SANA news agency.
The governorate’s Central Demolition Committee carried out this month’s demolitions. Each governorate has a demolition committee that provides support and implements the demolition and rubble removal process for such campaigns.
An “unlicensed structure” is any building constructed on public property or on land expropriated by the state or any structure that violates either the relevant zoning plans or structural safety codes. Decree No. 40 of 2012 stipulated the demolition of any such building constructed after its issuance while allowing for the maintenance and legal settlement of previously existing violations. From time to time, campaigns are organised to demolish and remove unlicensed structures.
Salamieh is located on the edge of Syria’s desert Badia region in the Hama governorate and includes many districts and towns within its administration. The majority of the city’s residents belong to the Ismaili sect, with a minority of Sunni and Alawite populations as well.
Some of the estates targeted in the demolitions campaign featured villas that were built outside the Salamieh zoning plan, SANA reported. It was unclear what category of violation the villas were classified under, but according to SANA, the owners of some 22 unlicensed structures were warned to evacuate their properties, which were to be removed after the city obtained the necessary public prosecution decisions.
The estates, generally, contain small villas with fruit orchards surrounded by external fences. These estates represent the wealth of their owners and are largely used for holidays.
The governor of Hama attended the demolitions in the western neighbourhood of Salamieh where, according to some pro-regime websites, he personally made sure that the owners of the unlicensed structures were notified of a final “top-down decision” to tear down the villas. Pro-regime news sites used the term “top-down decision” to indicate the seriousness of such demolitions, a result of their support from officials in the Presidential Palace.
The Police Command in Hama sent personnel to the demolition sites to contain any potential repercussions, especially since the targeted estate owners included some influential figures in Salamieh, one of them a current member of the Syrian Parliament. Some estate owners hurled stones at the governor during the demolitions.
The Salamieh demolitions are notable in comparison to a previous demolitions campaign, also based on Law No. 40, that occurred in the nearby city of Masyaf in late 2021. The Masyaf demolitions targeted violations of public property by low-income residents of the city who were using the properties for residential and agricultural purposes. At the time, the campaign in Masyaf skirted around similar, large violations of public property by some local leaders in the National Defence Forces, military officials and senior civil servants.
Despite the rock-throwing, the Hama governor reneged and requested a temporary halt to the Salamieh demolitions. He gave a deadline for the estate owners to dismantle and extract some reusable materials from their properties such as ceramics, iron, bricks, and electrical wiring before they were turned into unusable rubble. The halt seemed to reduce pressure and prevent further escalation by the estate owners.
According to pro-regime news sites, the villas on the estates had been constructed with the complicity of the head of the Salamieh City Council, the official in charge of construction in the city council and the so-called “monitor” of the western neighbourhood, a low-level employee. The Hama governor issued instructions to arrest those responsible for the violations and refer the file to the judiciary to broaden the scope of the investigations.
Some of the estate owners gave statements claiming that the city council head had assured them that “decades will go by before the state disposes of that land.” Such statements suggest that the farmland was privately owned land expropriated for the state’s benefit, or that it was originally public property. Other news sites reported that the estate owners had taken possession of public property and built upon it after paying bribes to the city council head and members of the council’s executive office. Indeed, building violations often occur in regime-held parts of Syria through paying bribes to municipal employees and council members to look the other way.