Photo: Demolition of unlicensed structures in Aleppo’s Al-Maasraniyeh neighbourhood. Source: social media
The Aleppo City Council has begun implementing a recovery plan in several of the city’s eastern neighbourhoods under the supervision of a UN programme and in cooperation with the Ministry of Local Administration and Environment.
The responsibility for the implementation of the plan falls to the Services Directorate in the Qadhi Askar district, which is one of the Aleppo City Council’s largest service directorates. It covers an area that includes the neighbourhoods of Qadhi Askar, Al-Maysar, Karam Al-Tahhan, Jouret Awad, Karam Khiyateh, Karam Al-Beik, Karam Al-Nahhas, Karam Al-Maktabi, Karam Al-Qaterji, Karam Al-Jabal, Sidd Al-Lawz, Dhaheret Awad, Al-Jazmati, Al-Shaar, Al-Arqoub, Tariq Al-Bab, Al-Maasraniyeh and Jisr Al-Sakhour. Some of these neighbourhoods are home to large swathes of informal housing.
The initial stage of the recovery plan includes rehabilitating a number of gardens: rebuilding outer fences, cleanup, covering the ground with fresh soil, planting palm trees, maintaining any sewage and drinking water networks that pass through them, replacing damaged garden seats and extending a network of solar-powered lights.
The recovery plan will include all neighbourhoods within the Qadhi Askar district, an official in the district’s services directorate told The Syria Report. Later stages of the plan will focus on rehabilitating basic services, repairing sewage and drinking water networks, repairing roads and removing rubble, especially rubble that poses a public safety risk or that blocks roads. The plan will also include opening main roads and side streets, removing berms and cement blocks, weeding and re-paving roads and sidewalks, and implementing daily cleanup efforts.
Government bodies, local administrative units, NGOs and organisations linked to the Baath Party, as well as pro-Iran militias, are contributing to implementing the plan, according to the services directorate source. Alongside the Qadhi Askar Services Directorate, the Education Directorate and a local Baath Party branch are also helping to organise cleanup events and involve schoolchildren and party members in service activities. The source added that the east Aleppo branch of Faylaq Mudafaeen an Halab (the “Aleppo Defenders Brigade”), a component of the Syrian Hezbollah militia, is also planning to contribute personnel, machinery and engineering equipment for rubble and garbage removal and road reopening efforts. The group will also work with the Qadhi Askar Services Directorate to remove cement blocks and reduce the number of its security and military checkpoints within the neighbourhoods targeted by the recovery plan. Those neighbourhoods are under the control of Faylaq Mudafaeen an Halab.
Most neighbourhoods in the Qadhi Askar district were severely damaged by regime barrel bombs when the opposition controlled the area in 2012-2016. This is due, in part, to opposition forces having taken a handful of service and government buildings in Qadhi Askar as their main headquarters.
Qadhi Askar also witnessed two large waves of displacement. The first was in 2014 when regime forces intensified barrel bomb strikes on the district, and the second came in 2016 during the forced displacement of the opposition from east Aleppo.
Officials have reassured local residents that the recovery plan is merely “cosmetic” and aimed at rehabilitating roads as well as sewage and water networks, but many people are not convinced. Residents told The Syria Report of a rumour that the plan will include demolishing unlicensed buildings in the Al-Maasraniyeh neighbourhood–a campaign they fear could also spread to other parts of Qadhi Askar. The Aleppo City Council implemented large-scale demolition campaigns in March and April 2021, targeting unlicensed buildings on land in Al-Maasraniyeh that the state had expropriated for a planned youth housing project.
In reality, Aleppo authorities have not stopped demolishing damaged buildings in Qadhi Askar since regime forces seized control in late 2016. The city council has refused to grant restoration licenses for partially damaged buildings in some neighbourhoods, on the grounds that those areas contain swathes of informal housings that had been constructed on state-owned land. Remaining residents of Qadhi Askar, especially those living in informal housings, fear that the regime could exploit the UN-sponsored recovery plan and turn the plan into a campaign to remove partially damaged or structurally unsound buildings. Such removals would threaten residents’ housing, land and property rights.