Most residents of the Damascus suburb of Qaboun, who were forcibly displaced to opposition-held areas in northwestern Syria, have been unable to submit objections to the new zoning plans for the neighbourhood, rendering them unable to prove their property ownership rights.
Destruction in Qaboun. Source: Google maps
In June 2020, the Damascus governorate announced it had issued a detailed zoning plan, No. 105, for Qaboun’s residential area under the Planning and Urban Development Law No. 23 of 2015. The governorate displayed the new plan in its public hall for a period of one month, during which time it fielded objections from rights owners in Qaboun. To date, it is not fully clear whether the governorate actually approved the new detailed zoning plan, or what happened to the objections.
Qaboun also includes an industrial zone and in 2019 was given a separate development plan No. 104, in accordance with the provisions of Law No. 10 for 2018 approved for that zone.
Qaboun faced widespread destruction from 2011 to 2017 due to aerial bombardment and ground fighting, including during the period of opposition control over the neighbourhood. Following a long siege, opposition forces in Qaboun accepted a reconciliation agreement in May 2017 that saw the forced displacement of those who rejected the deal. Around 130 families stayed in the neighbourhood after the agreement, while some 400 were displaced to Idlib. Before that, thousands were displaced from Qaboun to Damascus city and the surrounding countryside over the course of the war. Hundreds more sought refuge outside Syria altogether.
Late last year, some locally displaced Qaboun residents were allowed to return and live in the neighbourhood, as long as they met two conditions: undergoing a security “investigation” by Air Force Intelligence, the security branch controlling the district, and obtaining a report from a specialised technical committee stating that their property is habitable. Many IDPsare still unable to return, as much of the neighbourhood was reduced to rubble. On top of the destruction of the district that took place during fighting, part of Qaboun was destroyed after the government decided to erase a whole area, pushing the district’s boundaries some 400 metres from the adjacent Damascus-Homs highway, according to a correspondent for The Syria Report in the area.
In recent years, demolition teams have worked to take down buildings within that residential area on the pretext they are structurally unsound, though they have not provided detailed reports for each building. Parties affiliated with security and military forces in charge of the neighbourhood have also worked to remove the rubble in order to reuse it to produce construction materials.
Local sources told The Syria Report that the demolition and rubble removal was being carried out by crews working for Damascene businessman Mohammad Hamsho, in cooperation with Republican Guard officers and Air Force Intelligence. The Syria Report could not independently confirm the claims.
The demolition of parts of Qaboun’s residential area, as well as the issuance of the new zoning plans, could cause many former residents to lose their real estate rights, due to dozens of confiscation decrees issued in absentia by the Terrorism Court, largely targeting those seen to be sympathetic to the opposition. Many forcibly displaced residents also fear showing up in person to defend their ownership rights, as they could be targeted by security forces. Furthermore, demolishing certain properties before confirming ownership rights has raised concerns over the fate of properties that are not formally registered by Cadastral Affairs. Many properties in Qaboun were built informally on property classified as agricultural land.
Despite these concerns, so-called “delegates” from Qaboun are buying what remains of properties belonging to displaced residents. According to residents, those delegates are working with Mr Hamsho, though The Syria Report could not confirm their claim. The delegates are treating these properties as empty, unbuilt land, as most buildings on these properties have now been demolished. They then offer low prices to purchase the lands — around SYP 60-100 per square metre.