On September 20, the State Security Department’s General Intelligence sent the mukhtar of Al-Dekhaniyeh, a town in the Rural Damascus governorate, a list of names of 70 displaced residents. Although the issuance of the list suggests that the intelligence agency had no objection to their return, it does not necessarily mean that returns will occur anytime soon.
According to a correspondent for The Syria Report, the town’s mukhtar requested that those whose names appeared on the list visit his office to submit applications for return. He informed the returnees to bring their ID cards and documents proving property ownership in the town and electricity, water and phone bills. Real estate contracts not formally listed within the Land Registry or with the courts would not be accepted.
On September 29, a group representing the displaced residents of Al-Dekhaniyeh met with the governor of Rural Damascus and the town’s mukhtar, demanding that the governor expedite their return process. They also offered to help remove rubble and other rehabilitation work in the town. The governor promised to start the return process by the end of October, affirming that rehabilitation work on the town’s infrastructure would also begin soon.
The correspondent reported the governor of Rural Damascus saying that since 2018, around 400 families have submitted return requests to the governorate and that those requests were assigned numbers. He added that anyone with a return request whose name did not appear on the list should submit a request to the State Security Department in Kafr Sousseh, Damascus, to obtain security approval. An estimated 5,000 people lived in the town before 2011.
The correspondent added that some 600 families have yet to submit any requests to the governorate for returning to Al-Dekhaniyeh. According to the governor, these families must submit their requests to the governorate, obtain numbers, and then visit the State Security Department in Kafr Sousseh.
Al-Dekhaniyeh belongs to the Al-Kisweh district in Rural Damascus, adjacent to the city of Jaramana. It is close to the city centre of Damascus, located just 1.50 kilometres from the capital’s historic Bab Sharqi area. Al-Dekhaniyeh’s zoning plans are old and categorise much of the land within its boundaries as agricultural, where construction is prohibited. Nevertheless, like many other parts of Rural Damascus surrounding the capital city, Al-Dekhaniyeh has witnessed a boom in informally built housing since the 1970s due to the rising demand for cheap accommodation.
The town is also an important industrial centre, home to many warehouses belonging to Damascus merchants. There are also car repair workshops, iron workshops, and textile factories. Located in Al-Dekhaniyeh are factories for the General Company for Manufacturing Nylon Threads and Stockings, the General Company for Paints, Chemical Industries Omayad Paints, and more.
Opposition forces launched an attack on the town in 2014. The rebels managed to take control of most of the town at the time. However, regime forces recaptured it after a month of fierce battles that saw so-called “elephant missiles” wreak widespread damage to infrastructure and private property. Afterwards, Al-Dekhaniyeh became a closed military zone, with regime forces bulldozing many homes in the northern neighbourhood and using the rubble to build berms separating the town from nearby Ain Terma during the time opposition forces controlled it. Work teams contracted by the regime looted homes belonging to displaced residents, withdrawing iron from the roofs and water and plumbing pipes.
Al-Dekhaniyeh has been empty of its residents since 2014, with regime forces still not permitting them to return. Most of the displaced now live in nearby neighbourhoods of Damascus, such as Al-Dweilaeh, Kashkoul and Al-Kabbas, and the Rural Damascus city of Jaramana. Many fear that the security services view them as sympathetic to the opposition and that they helped opposition forces enter the town’s northern neighbourhoods in 2014, preventing them from being approved to return home. According to The Syria Report’s correspondent, most residents permitted to return via the State Security list are from the town’s southern neighbourhoods. Until now, entry to the town is prohibited. An Air Force Intelligence checkpoint in Al-Kabbas and a State Security checkpoint in Al-Dweilaeh prevent anyone from entering.
Meanwhile, the Damascus governorate has transformed the northeastern part of Al-Dekhaniyeh into a waste dump for the capital’s eastern neighbourhoods. According to the correspondent, the piles of garbage are now several storeys high and have overtaken some real estate in the area.
In February 2018, the president of the Jaramana City Council told local media that Al-Dekhaniyeh would be annexed into the city’s zoning expansion plan. He added that the process would include removing rubble and dilapidated buildings, providing services, and distributing certain rights to their holders.
Finally, in early 2021, the head of Rural Damascus’ Directorate for Decision and Regional Planning Support told local media that a detailed zoning plan was underway for Al-Dekhaniyeh.