The recent collapse of an unlicensed constructed building in Aleppo’s Al-Fardous neighbourhood sparked rare outrage in state-run and other media outlets. These agencies have called on authorities to punish those responsible for the incident and to remove such buildings in accordance with Decree No. 40 of 2012. The criticism surrounding this particular incident stems from the fact that the building was built after the end of the battle for Aleppo, meaning the previous bombardment of the area didn’t directly impact it.
In any case, 13 people – including women and children from two different families – were killed on September 07 when their five-storey apartment building collapsed in the Al-Fardous neighbourhood, in the eastern part of Aleppo. Workers spent three consecutive days searching for survivors and the dead beneath the rubble, due to the neighbourhood’s narrow streets, making it difficult to bring in heavy equipment.
Al-Jamahir, Aleppo’s state-run local newspaper, quoted one resident of the collapsed building who had lost several family members in the collapse, including his pregnant wife. According to the man’s testimony, he bought an apartment in the building a year and a half ago via a legal sales contract through a real estate office. A lawyer registered the contract. According to other eyewitnesses quoted by Al-Jamahir, the building had appeared modern from the outside, and nobody expected it could collapse. In similar cases of unlicensed buildings, apartments may be sold via legal contracts, albeit the apartments do not have any records in the Land Registry.
Immediately after the building’s collapse, the governor of Aleppo issued Decision No. 9291, which stipulated forming a committee consisting of technicians from the governorate’s general secretariat and the Aleppo City Council, the Engineers’ Syndicate and Technical Services. The committee was tasked with investigating the incident and submitting a report with proposals within 24 hours. The report would include the reasons for the collapse, the age of the building and all other related details from certain documents and an inspection file.
According to the semi-official daily Al-Watan, the committee issued its report on September 8 and referred it to Criminal Security Branch to make the necessary investigations and take appropriate legal action against the workers who had failed to monitor or halt the unlicensed construction process, including anyone found responsible for the violation based on Decree No. 40 of 2012.
What caused the collapse?
Aerial photos of the building showed that it had been newly built, and was constructed in the second half of 2020, according to the committee’s report. It was built without a permit and is located in an informal settlement area. Load-bearing parts of the structure were built out of hollow blocks, which violates Syrian construction code. Essentially, this meant that the building had minimum concrete and reinforcing bars or columns. Buildings lacking these elements are often known as liffeh (or ‘roll’ in Arabic) buildings and are commonly found in informal settlements.
Such buildings were often constructed after regime forces regained control over Aleppo’s eastern neighbourhoods in late 2016, a source from the Aleppo City Council told The Syria Report. Often these buildings do not have strong bases, with contractors instead constructing bases on the top layer of soil, which is loose and, at best, cannot bear the weight of more than two storeys.
Contractors reportedly also load additional weight on these poor bases without using concrete and reinforcing bars to support it to cut costs. They also resort to dismantling the wooden moulds used for making the roofs before the concrete dried, in order to build more stories and in the least amount of time. All of this occurs without any engineering supervision or official monitoring.
Worse, the Al-Fardous neighbourhood sits above an area filled with caves and has witnessed similar collapses since before 2011, a former Aleppo City Council engineer told The Syria Report. Wartime bombardment of the area also increased the risks of collapse, in addition to leakage from damaged water and sewage networks, which can harm old and new building foundations.
The Al-Baqir Brigade and municipal authorities
As part of its investigation into the collapse, the Criminal Security branch in Aleppo arrested the former head of the Bab Al-Nairab Services Directorate and the directorate’s judicial police official on September 10l. Two construction traders from the Al-Abboud family were also arrested and accused of being responsible for constructing the failed building.
A City Council source told The Syria Report that the party responsible for constructing the building was a local construction contracts and real estate office run by four brothers from the Al-Abboud family. Only two of the brothers have so far been arrested.
The source added that the office is located in the Al-Fardous neighbourhood, which is within the area of control of the Al-Baqir Brigade, a militia loyal to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Al-Abboud brothers reportedly have a good relationship with the brigade, which eases their work in areas the brigade controls, especially in informal neighbourhoods. The office also performs restoration work on damaged buildings, rents out properties, and constructs them. The Al-Baqir Brigade reportedly has a partnership with Al-Abboud brothers’ office to implement a handful of construction projects in the Al-Fardous, Al-Saliheen, Al-Marjeh, Al-Maadi, and Karm Houmed neighbourhoods.
The office also has a good relationship with the Aleppo City Council and the Bab Al-Nairab Services Directorate, whose services cover the Al-Fardous area.
According to sources, these relationships contributed to the office’s ability to implement numerous construction projects without adhering to structural safety rules and without being monitored by municipal authorities.
After the collapse of the building in Al-Fardous, Aleppo City Council’s Public Safety Committee evacuated adjacent buildings, fearing they could collapse, too. Notably, many residents who feared another collapse evacuated their homes within damaged buildings in Al-Fardous, al-Saliheen and Al-Maadi, doing so of their own volition and without any requests from local authorities. Many residents of these neighbourhoods, which faced severe regime aerial and artillery bombing when under opposition control from 2012-2016, felt a state of panic and fear following the collapse of the building in Al-Fardous.
According to a correspondent for The Syria Report, a group of Al-Saliheen residents informed police on September 9 that another building was in danger of falling. The Public Safety Committee inspected the building and found depressions in its foundation, afterwards ordering that it be evacuated and demolished. Police immediately evacuated the residents under City Council supervision, reportedly without allowing them to pack anything with them but their clothes. That same day, heavy machinery arrived on the scene to begin the demolition, which went on for three hours.