Specialised crews are extracting and then selling iron rebar from demolished roofs in the city of Saraqib east of Idlib city, with protection from regime forces who took control of the area after virtually all residents fled earlier this year. The rebar extraction is rendering the targeted houses unsuitable for living, and vulnerable to collapse.
A video filmed on August 11, and confirmed by The Syria Report, appears to show three workers demolishing the roof over the home of Issa Al-Maaloul, a former resident in Saraqib’s Al-Halak neighbourhood. Al-Maaloul’s home is relatively newly built, and the iron rebar extracted from the house is still new, unlike in other buildings where the iron has become worn down, according to The Syria Report’s correspondent in Idlib.
Regime forces recaptured Saraqib in March 2020 after intense battles with rebels, who were afterwards forced to withdraw further north. Saraqib is a strategic transportation hub, situated at the junction of the M4 highway connecting Lattakia and Aleppo and the M5 highway that connects Damascus and Aleppo.
The demolitions are taking place under the supervision of the 25th Special Mission Forces Division, better known as the “Tiger Forces”, a pro-Russian militia led by Brigadier General Suheil Al-Hassan. The militia often contracts private workshops to extract iron, using large metal hammers to demolish rooftops. One ton of the untreated looted iron sells for about USD 65, mostly in markets in Hama and Aleppo, and is suitable for re-use after it is treated in diesel machines.
Most areas of Syria retaken by the regime in recent years have seen wide-scale looting of furniture and electrical appliances left behind by residents forcibly displaced from their homes. In some areas, specialised workshops have also looted metal rebar, such as in Yarmouk under the supervision of Fourth Armoured Division led by Maher Al-Assad. In most cases, looting of rebar takes place in areas where residents are banned from returning. Even in cases where they do return, their homes are more often than not unsafe for living.
The Tiger Forces’ method for extracting and selling the iron rebar does not appear much different from that of the Fourth Division. The business departments of the Tiger Forces and Fourth Division, also known as their economic offices, hire private workshops, run by various pro-government militias, as subcontractors to extract iron, copper, and sand from the rubble. The economic offices then supervise weighing of the materials, as well as pricing. Often the metals are melted down in special casting furnaces.
Saraqib is not the only city in the Idlib governorate to face iron rebar looting. The phenomenon has spread widely in the towns and villages east of Maaret Al-Numan, in southern Idlib. Several aerial photos have shown houses near the town of Maar Shourin from which the rebar has been removed. According to The Syria Report’s correspondent in Idlib, workers have removed iron rebar from some 300 houses in Maaret Al-Numan’s eastern countryside.
Aerial photo of a western neighbourhood of Saraqib, where roofs have been demolished