In March 2021, the Spanish NGO Rescate announced on Facebook that it was planning to rehabilitate damaged residential apartments in the Al-Shaar neighbourhood of east Aleppo and invited building contractors to submit tenders for the project. However, the organisation does not mention the owners of the damaged apartments or their situation in its technical, financial, and legal booklets on the project.
Sources in Al-Shaar told The Syria Report that the bid did not succeed due to a disagreement between the Aleppo City Council and the Syria Trust for Development (STD) on the one hand and Rescate on the other. The dispute was over the locations of the apartments slated for renovation, whether they were inhabited, and who owned them. Rescate re-launched the same project in August 2022 but made no mention of whether it resolved these disputes or if they were ongoing.
One source in Al-Shaar said that the renovation began in the last quarter of 2022 and that the owners handed over their apartments to the Aleppo City Council at the start of 2023. The source added that the renovations targeted apartments identified by the City Council and that Rescate was not free to choose the flats or distribution areas itself. According to the source, some of the renovated apartments belong to absentees and IDPs who had been forcibly displaced from Aleppo, while others are owned by City Council employees, security officers, and officials from the STD.
Al-Shaar was among the most heavily damaged neighbourhoods in the regime’s aerial and artillery bombardment of Aleppo between 2012 and 2016 when opposition forces controlled the city’s eastern half. The regime besieged thousands of residents in the district, especially in the small, high-density side streets, notably Sidd Al-Louz Street. The Russian air force used concussion bombs and vacuum missiles in its bombardment. Meanwhile, regime warplanes frequently dropped barrel bombs on residential buildings, most of which were five storeys high.
According to Rescate’s booklet of technical specifications and conditions published on Facebook, the apartment renovation project is titled “Rehabilitation of Damaged Apartments in Aleppo Neighbourhoods.” This project is a part of the humanitarian inter-sector Operational Plan for Collective Shelters in Aleppo (Eastern Aleppo city) as Rescate, as part of the Aleppo response plan, was assigned a part of the rehabilitation task in the city. Rescate said that this action meets the urgent needs of returnees’ women, men and children through shelter upgrade works in 150 apartments. The specification and technical conditions booklet did not mention who owns these apartments or whether this work is being done with their consent.
BoQ (price tender-bill of quantities) No. 20434 issued by Rescate, entitled “Rehabilitation of Damaged Apartments,” describes some of the works required to be completed by the project contractor. They include construction works such as clearing the project site to start work, removing debris, transporting it to official landfills, removing waste and rubble, and cleaning floors. The project also requires concrete works, finishes, electrical, water, and sewage work, maintenance work, and repairs to standard utilities of the buildings. The project’s total cost was listed as SYP 9,927,822 (around USD 1000 at the official rate and USD 900 at the black market rate).
Rescate’s specifications booklet clarifies that it appointed an engineer and created a supervision mechanism alongside its local partner in Aleppo (which was not named in the document). The local partner will oversee the project. The contract lasts 60 days, with an initial deposit of SYP 4 million and a final payment of 10 percent of the contract value.
The booklet also explained the conditions that the bidder must comply with, including having a recent registration certificate from a Syrian chamber of commerce or industry, a notarised certificate of their registration as a contractor in the Contractors’ Syndicate, a copy of the bidder’s criminal record proving they are not convicted of a felony or other heinous crime, and a statement from the bidder saying that they do not own or participate in any factory, institution, branch office or entity in Israel. One of the contractor’s obligations is to rely on some technical staff and suppliers from residents or those affected by the crisis in the area, whose names are proposed by the organisation and considered part of the work team.
The Syria Report could not identify the contractor who signed the contract with Rescate to complete the project. However, another source in Aleppo Governorate from the neighbourhood said that Al-Shaar is under the control of the Baqir Brigade militia, supported by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, based in the Al-Balloua neighbourhood of east Aleppo. The source added that most construction commitments in Al-Shaar, and East Aleppo are generally awarded to contractors with close ties with the militia.
Omar Al-Hassan, the political officer in the Baqir Brigade and a former member of the Syrian Parliament, is the intermediary for all construction work associated with the militia in east Aleppo, the source added. Hassan reportedly manages various construction crews and oversees factories producing construction blocks and white stones. He also owns warehouses for storing and trading cement and runs rubble recycling crushers in the Hilan and Handarat areas in Aleppo.
In 2019, Rescate tried to transport, crush, and sort rubble to extract materials to make cement bricks for construction in Aleppo. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) funded the experiment with support from the STD and the Aleppo City Council. According to a statement by the head of Aleppo City Council to the official SANA news agency in March 2019, the experiment was successful, morphing into a project to produce 8,000 cement brick blocks.
The City Council president said at the time that the international entities funding the project ensured the provision of machinery and equipment, and ownership of the equipment would go to the Aleppo City Council after the project’s completion in December 2021.
Rescate also oversaw the preparation of the popular market of Deir Hafer in rural Aleppo in partnership with the STD, the Aleppo governorate, and the Deir Hafer City Council.