Many returnees to the eastern neighbourhoods of Aleppo city could not recover their homes, which were occupied during their absence by families who had been displaced from the Idlib governorate towns of Kafraya and Al-Fuaa. The Al-Baqir Brigade, a militia loyal to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, controls some neighbourhoods in east Aleppo and has refused to return the occupied properties to their original owners.
Some displaced homeowners who have returned to the east Aleppo neighbourhoods of Al-Marjeh, Al-Maadi, Al-Saliheen, Bab Al-Neirab, and Al-Fardous have filed lawsuits before the civil courts in the city to evict the current occupants. They have also unsuccessfully attempted to mediate with the head of the Al-Baqir Brigade, Khaled Al-Marai, a sheikh from the Al-Bakareh tribe.
Residents from Kafraya and Al-Fuaa, two Shia-majority towns, mostly remained politically loyal to the Syrian regime. They were forcibly displaced from their homes in several stages, the last of which was in July 2018. Their expulsion was part of the so-called Four Towns Agreement, the IRGC, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, and the Islamist Ahrar Al-Sham group negotiated in April 2017 in Doha, Qatar. The agreement stipulated the simultaneous expulsion of residents from several besieged towns, including Madaya and Al-Zabadani in the Rural Damascus governorate and Kafraya and Al-Fuaa in Idlib.
More than 40,000 Kafraya and Al-Fuaa residents were displaced from their homes and sent to live in displacement shelters in regime-held areas. From there, the Al-Baqir Brigade transferred around 2,000 families to the areas it controls in east Aleppo, allowing them to occupy the vacant homes of displaced residents from those neighbourhoods.
The homes in east Aleppo are owned by displaced people who fled the fighting between 2012 to 2016 or by pro-opposition residents who were forcibly displaced, most of whom are Sunni Muslims. The latter group were expelled during the regime’s final attack on east Aleppo in late 2016 and sent to opposition-controlled areas of rural northern Aleppo governorate. Most of the people now returning home to east Aleppo are from the first group, as forcibly displaced residents must obtain security approval to return.
Meanwhile, the Al-Baqir Brigade has done restoration work on some homes and apartments damaged by previous fighting and regime bombing in the area during opposition control in 2012-16. Namely, the brigade made the houses it worked on habitable, with repaired water and electrical networks. The homes were also provided with furniture by the Aleppo Defenders Corps, another pro-IRGC militia, to house the displaced people from Kafraya and Al-Fuaa properly.
One displaced resident who tried returning home to the Al-Marjeh neighbourhood told The Syria Report that members of the Al-Baqir Brigade prevented him from visiting his house, which a family from Al-Fuaa now occupies. He added that a group of homeowners communicated with the Al-Baqir Brigade leadership in the Al-Balloureh neighbourhood to mediate their return and evict the current occupants, but the commanders rejected their pleas.
The returnee said he is now living in a rented home in the same neighbourhood as his house. Another displaced person from east Aleppo told The Syria Report that he had filed a complaint to the court, which subsequently issued a ruling evicting the occupants from his home. However, he said the ruling has yet to be executed and that a group affiliated with the Al-Baqir Brigade threatened him with physical harm or detainment if he continued pursuing the eviction.
Officials from Al-Baqir Brigade suggested that if alternative housing units are made available for the Kafraya and Al-Fuaa families, the homes in east Aleppo will return to the original owners. However, according to The Syria Report’s correspondent, the officials implied that the returning homeowners would, in this case, have to pay the costs of restoring their houses.
Meanwhile, a source in Aleppo’s Directorate of Endowments told The Syria Report that the Iranian government is equipping residential buildings on endowment properties in the Jibb Al-Jalabi neighbourhood of east Aleppo. The source added that the Kafraya and Al-Fuaa families would move to those homes under long-term rental contracts. Iran built numerous residential facilities in Jibb Al-Jalabi in 2020 and 2021. The country also set up a consulate nearby, in the same area.