On August 28, the Damascus governorate’s General Establishment for Drinking Water and Sewage sent a letter to the mukhtar of a town in Rural Damascus stating that the government will expropriate property falling within two real estate zones per Article 9 of Expropriation Law No. 20 of 1983.
In its letter (Letter No. 10099), the water establishment referenced a previous letter issued by the Ministry of Financial Resources (Letter No. 5436 of August 16, 2022) and Expropriation Decision No. 1298 of August 10, 2022, which stipulated the expropriation of properties and parts of properties from the Ayn Al-Fijeh and Deir Muqarren real estate zones.
The expropriation decision, issued by the Council of Ministers, included hundreds of properties that would be expropriated in order to implement a project around the Ayn Al-Fijeh Spring. The decision affirmed that there were Expropriation Plans for the project, and that the plans were being arranged by the Prime Ministry, the Ministry of Financial Resources, and the Damascus governorate’s General Water Establishment.
On September 12, the governor of Damascus met with the mayor and city council members of Ayn Al-Fijeh to discuss the matter. Afterwards, the mayor published pictures of the expropriation decision and the water establishment’s letter on his personal Facebook page.
Notably, none of these communications mentions Law No. 1 of 2018, which established two protected zones around the Ayn Al-Fijeh Spring: the direct and indirect zones. The direct zone surrounds the spring and is meant to provide maintenance and safety preservation to prevent pollution, while the indirect zone includes land surrounding the spring and the direct zone.
Article 3 of Law No. 1 permits the expropriation of properties or parts of properties located within the direct zone, according to expropriation plans attached to the Law, and orders property compensation that accounts for the real values of properties.
Article 4 stipulates the creation of the two protected zones mentioned above and two pipelines for transporting water from the Ayn Al-Fijeh Spring to Damascus. The direct zone around the two pipelines is set at 10 metres side, while the width for the indirect zone is set at 20 metres.
The Law did not explicitly stipulate the expropriation of lands for both protected zones around the two water pipelines. It also prohibits certain work from being performed within the direct zones around the spring and the pipelines. This work included digging wells, transporting rocks, dirt or sand outside the zone, building facilities, using fertilisers and pesticides, paving or extending roads, and performing agricultural or manufacturing work.
The Law also stipulates an amendment of Ayn Al-Fijeh’s and Deir Muqarren’s zoning plans to remove any residential areas within the direct zone. However, it permits people in villages within the spring’s indirect zone to renovate existing houses rather than build new ones. Any residential facilities built within the indirect zone before the issuance of the Law may remain in place if they meet certain conditions. Many of Ayn Al-Fijeh’s older historic homes are located within the direct zones surrounding the spring and the pipelines.
The expropriation decision, published in the Official Gazette Issue No. 31 on August 24, 2022, includes several hundred completed properties and portions of 18 other properties. Most of the properties are in Ayn Al-Fijeh, with a smaller number in Deir Muqarren. All of the 18 partially expropriated lands are in Ayn Al-Fijeh. The expropriation plans for the protected direct zone around the spring have not yet been published, but the expropriation of land suggests that the plans include most of Ayn Al-Fijah and some parts of Deir Muqarren.
Regime forces have not yet allowed forcibly displaced people to return to their homes in Ayn Al-Fijeh. Residents fled the town during the regime’s military offensive on opposition factions in the broader Wadi Barada area in 2017. In 2020, the regime did authorise some residents to come check on their homes for the first time since the conflict. These residents were chosen based on lists approved by the national security services.
In a radio interview this past March, the Ayn Al-Fijeh mayor said displaced residents who seek to return to the town face two problems. The first is that the alternative housing project programme has yet to begin for owners whose homes were expropriated in Ayn Al-Fijeh and Wadi Barada. Second, public services have not yet been restored to the town. The mayor added that the municipality removed all “encroachments” from the spring’s direct zone but did not clarify what he meant by “encroachments.” However, aerial photographs suggest that much of the town has been razed.
In August 2020, the Rural Damascus governorate contracted General Company for Engineering Studies (GCES), affiliated with the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, to prepare detailed and executive zoning plans for a Wadi Barada residential suburb east of Ayn Al-Fijeh. The suburb would serve as alternative housing for owners of properties that were confiscated under Law No. 1 of 2018 and those whose homes were destroyed by wartime fighting in the area.