Eight years after capturing the town of Sbeineh in the countryside south of Damascus, security forces are still obstructing the return of displaced residents and restricting the rights of those who have been able to return.
Regime forces, assisted by militias loyal to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, recaptured Sbeineh in November 2013. Residents were not permitted to return to the town until August 2017, following mediation led by several tribal leaders originally from the Golan Heights at the Baath Party branch in Quneitra, as well as through the People’s Assembly. Before 2011, Sbeineh had an estimated population of 160,000 residents, the majority of whom were displaced people originally from the Golan Heights.
Despite the 2017 mediation, regime forces only allowed residents to return gradually, in three batches. The first was for the families of regime soldiers and allied militia fighters. The second included public sector employees and civil servants, and the third was for everyone else. However, the branch of Military Security that controls Sbeineh continues to prohibit the return of certain families, as a form of collective punishment for the opposition activities of some family members. Less than 50,000 people currently reside in Sbeineh, the equivalent of a third of its former population.
People in all three categories, especially the third, who wish to return to Sbeineh must present documents proving their ownership of real estate in the town. Electricity bills may sometimes be used in place of such documents as long as they are recent and paid. Likewise, the personal IDs of all adult family members must be shown, as well as a complete family ledger. If a family member is missing, a police report must be shown explaining their absence or circumstances of death. And if a member of the family has left Syria, the family must provide proof of his or her residency abroad.
According to a correspondent for The Syria Report in the area, members of Sbeineh’s security committees have seized homes and shops belonging to displaced opposition sympathisers from the town. In addition, some displaced residents who do not wish to return are offering their properties for sale at cheap prices.
At the same time, rubble is still impeding access to some destroyed neighbourhoods. Those hoping to rehabilitate their properties must pay royalties of up to SYP 500,000 to the officer in charge of the studies department of the local Military Security branch, in return for security and municipal approval.
Human rights sources in Sbeineh said that more than 200 houses belonging to pro-opposition residents had been looted and burned. This has created a sense of fear among many displaced residents, even those not affiliated with the opposition, who no longer wish to return.
Two draft zoning plans have been released for Sbeineh since it was recaptured by the regime. The first was in 2014 and was said to have included only half the total area of the town. The second was issued in 2020 and included the entire town. It is unclear why two different draft zoning plans were released, or whether the Damascus countryside governorate has settled on a final plan, amid reports of many objections to the 2020 draft.
A checkpoint in Sbeineh
Source: social media