Rural Damascus Governorate Selectively Demolishes Unlicensed Buildings
On September 17, the Rural Damascus governorate demolition workshops, with police support, removed a wall surrounding two farm plots in Al-Shabreh, an area south of Hteitet Al-Turkman, East Ghouta, that sit at the intersection of a railroad track and the Damascus Airport road. Days later, on September 19, the governorate workshops also demolished seven large homes in the area that had nearly completed construction.
The head of Rural Damascus’ Follow-up Directorate said in a televised interview that Hteitet Al-Turkman authorities informed the governorate of an operation to “build on the farms without construction licences.” He added that the governorate directed “demolition workshops” to remove the buildings, which included shops, large houses, and walls.
Here, the term ‘farm’ refers not to land used for agriculture but to walled-in plots of land containing villas or large luxury homes. Most of these properties are legally classified as agricultural lands, on which construction is not permitted. Their owners are usually influential figures with ties to government or security officials, who protect them from municipal demolitions.
During the same interview, the former Hteitet Al-Turkman mayor said that the municipality sealed the illegal buildings with red wax and ordered the governorate to remove them in accordance with the law. He added that the Rural Damascus governor responded to the request and removed the buildings. According to the former mayor, the municipality requested help because it lacked the heavy machinery required to knock down the buildings.
The owner of the two plots of land is an influential woman nicknamed Al-Wazireh, who has close relations with government and security officials, according to a local correspondent for The Syria Report. However, the seven large villas on the properties reportedly belonged to Abu Basel from the Al-Shughour neighbourhood of Damascus, who worked alongside a former security official. Abu Basel purchased lands in the area in 2019, building illegal villas and calling the development the Al-Fawares Farms Complex.
The Al-Fawares Farms Complex was a project designed for investment and leasing. It is among a group of similar projects, including the well-known Al-Baz Villa, owned by one of Abu Basel’s relatives. In the surrounding Al-Shabreh area of Hteitet Al-Turkmen, more than 30 such villas were built illegally over the past two years for officials and other influential figures.
In early 2022, Al-Wazireh purchased the two plots of land next to the Al-Fawares Complex. The move angered Abu Basel, who was planning on buying the properties to build more villas. Using his security connections, Abu Basel pressured the Hteitet Al-Turkman municipality and the governorate to remove the walls around Al-Wazireh’s two properties, which they did on September 17.
Al-Wazireh subsequently filed a complaint to the Rural Damascus governorate against Abu Basel, accusing him of constructing the buildings without a permit. With unprecedented speed, the governorate moved to demolish his seven villas, indicating possible high-level security intervention. However, not all the properties in the Al-Fawares Farms Complex were destroyed, with some remaining intact.
The governorate said it demolished the properties because they infringed on the neighbouring railway and airport road. However, the demolished villas were relatively distant from the road and the railway. Meanwhile, the buildings that remain intact encroach on the railway and airport road.
According to The Syria Report‘s correspondent, Abu Basel lost his influence in mid-2022 when the former security official he worked with died. It is unclear whether the former official had a share in Abu Basel’s properties. Abu Basel also owns several plots in various parts of East Ghouta.
After Abu Basel’s properties were demolished, unconfirmed rumours suggested that he fled Syria because security services issued a warrant for his arrest. When municipal authorities move to demolish illegal buildings owned by officials or influential figures, it usually indicates that they are no longer protected by their high-level connections.
Meanwhile, an Air Force Intelligence security detachment inside Hteitet Al-Turkmen has prevented residents from restoring their properties that were damaged during the war. Residents are also barred from returning to the Al-Maydaniyeh neighbourhood of the town. Air Force Intelligence has seized dozens of homes in the town and painted the properties with the words “confiscated” or “sealed in wax.”