In the early morning on January 22, a building collapsed in east Aleppo’s Al-Sheikh Maqsoud neighbourhood, killing 18 residents. Though the building was newly constructed, it was not properly licensed and lacked structural integrity.
Al-Sheikh Maqsoud and neighbouring Ashrafieh are under the military control of the majority-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). The People’s Municipality, a part of the Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria (AANES), provides public services to the two neighbourhoods. The rest of Aleppo city is controlled by regime forces and allied militias. It receives public services from the government’s Aleppo City Council, which operates under the Ministry of Local Administration and Environment.
Regime military checkpoints surround the YPG-held areas in Al-Sheikh Maqsoud and Ashrafieh, sometimes enforcing full or partial sieges according to the state of relations between Damascus and AANES. For example, the past three months have seen the regime checkpoints prevent the entry of fuel, food supplies, baby formula and medicines into the two neighbourhoods due to an ongoing crisis between the two sides.
However, the scope of last week’s building collapse prompted the People’s Municipality to seek assistance from the Aleppo City Council to search the rubble for victims and survivors, according to The Syria Report’s local correspondent. The council sent Civil Defence and firefighting teams with heavy machinery and ambulances. However, the People’s Municipality reportedly prevented some of them from entering the area without providing any reason.
Rescue teams removed 18 bodies from the rubble and identified 16 of them. Three injured people were transferred to the Martyr Khaled Fajr Hospital in Al-Sheikh Maqsoud. According to our correspondent, the YPG prevented the Aleppo City Council medical teams from transferring the injured to hospitals in regime-held areas.
Eyewitnesses told The Syria Report that the rescue operations abruptly halted without apparent reason at noontime January 23, before some victims remaining under the rubble could be reached. Residents said they believe at least two people are still trapped, and whether they are alive or dead is unknown. Immediately after the rescue work stopped, the YPG requested all Aleppo City Council assistance teams to leave its control area.
The collapsed building was constructed in 2018 without a licence from any municipal authority, according to The Syria Report‘s correspondent. That means the building was relatively new and hadn’t been impacted by bombing, whether directly or indirectly. The lasting impacts of wartime bombings are the main reasons other buildings in east Aleppo have collapsed.
According to eyewitnesses, the five-storey building in Al-Sheikh Maqsoud collapsed completely. It was made up mostly of concrete blocks without a reinforced structure, indicating weak columns, foundations and roofs. Seeking the highest possible profit margins, contractors working on unlicensed buildings often use only small quantities of cement and iron, putting the structural integrity at risk.
The ground floor of the collapsed building also served as a car wash business. Last year, some columns on the ground floor were removed to expand the car wash and allow cars to drive through more easily. The facility had no system to drain the water from washing cars.
The building’s owner is a construction contractor, Abu Aref, who was displaced from the rural Afrin area northwest of Aleppo. For some time, he held a position in the People’s Municipality in Al-Sheikh Maqsoud. He constructed the five-storey residential building without a licence, replacing an old house he had previously purchased and demolished.
Abu Aref constructed other buildings in this same way in Al-Sheikh Maqsoud, and he is not the only contractor responsible for poorly executed, unlicensed construction. Such construction has become widespread in Al-Sheikh Maqsoud due to the growing demand for housing by Kurdish families displaced from Afrin since 2018. That year, Turkish forces and their affiliated Syrian opposition forces carried out a military campaign against the YPG in Afrin, and forcibly displaced many Kurdish residents, who sought safety in YPG-held territory.
The demand for housing in Al-Sheikh Maqsoud and Ashrafieh is not limited to displaced Kurds but also people from surrounding regime-held Aleppo neighbourhoods. The YPG-held neighbourhoods are generally safer and enjoy a greater degree of freedom. Public services are better available, as well as food supplies, fuel and job opportunities. Rental prices have risen as a result, with the area becoming profitable for many construction contractors and merchants with ties to the YPG.