Since regime forces recaptured the area in 2018, properties in Daraa city’s commercial souk have undergone continuous demolition, despite the fighting there being over. Rubble recycling crews are behind some of the demolitions, while the real estate owners themselves are demolishing other properties with the aim of removing the occupants and old tenants.
The souk occupies a large part of central Daraa, from the old western garage bus stop to the newer eastern one, and passes through Busra Square. It contains a number of different souks and shopping complexes within it, such as the consumers’ complex, Khan Al-Harir, Souk Al-Hamed, Souk Al-Rahmeh, Souk Al-Khodar and Souk Al-Hal. In addition to these shops, the souk is also home to lawyers’ offices, doctors’ clinics, X-ray and other medical laboratories, schools, government departments and trade syndicate offices.
The souk faced extensive damage during the fighting in 2012-2018 and emptied out. After the reconciliation agreement between opposition and regime forces in 2018, the regime set up military and security checkpoints at the entrances to the souk, according to The Syria Report’s correspondent in the area. The souk has only seen small, individual-level renovation work since then, in the area near the western garage bus stop. In exchange for SYP 100,000-200,000 daily fees, the checkpoints allowed local groups of rubble recyclers, known as tafteesh crews, or looting crews, to enter and demolish parts of the damaged buildings such as columns and ceilings in order to extract iron they could recycle and sell. According to our correspondent, each looting crew could extract enough iron per day from the rubble to sell at a minimum value of SYP 1 million, equivalent to around USD 2,100 dollars in 2018 when this looting first occurred.
Since mid-2020, the regime checkpoints have been removed and replaced by police patrols. However, those patrols still take bribes to turn a blind eye to the tafteesh crews. Throughout 2022, the tafteesh crews changed their methods and began to demolish entire buildings in the Daraa souk using heavy machinery.
Meanwhile, the owners of some damaged properties in the souk have obtained security approvals and demolition permits from the city council in order to demolish their properties and remove the rubble, our correspondent reported. Other owners, whose properties were partially damaged but who could not obtain demolition permits, allowed the tafteesh crews to extract the iron, thereby making their properties completely damaged and allowing them to obtain demolition permits.
Some owners seeking to demolish their properties in the souk are doing so in order to evade the furoogh tenancy system. A furoogh contract is a lease contract made for a commercial property for an indefinite period of time and signed before the issuance of Tenancy Law No. 10 of 2006. It is also subject to the compulsory extension system, which is an extension of the lease regardless of whether the lessor desires it. Under this system, tenants pay the property owner rent, usually a small amount that cannot be increased–for a shop in the Daraa commercial souk, this amount ranges between SYP 10,000 to SYP 15,000 per year. Meanwhile, the tenant has the right to sublease the shop, with all its tangible and intangible features, to another tenant in exchange for what is known as a furoogh payment, sometimes equivalent to the property’s current market value. Should the property owner wish to evict the tenant, they must pay them a furoogh payment.
According to an article published in the state-run Tishreen newspaper in October 2022, complete destruction of a leased building means, legally, complete loss of the rental. This permits the owner to cancel the lease contract because the property has become non-existent, allowing the land to return to its original owner.
Still, a property owner hoping to conceal their lease contract with an occupant or tenant must file a total property loss claim before the court. This means that cancellation of the tenancy relationship lies only within the judiciary, thereby ensuring that the lessor compensate the tenant. The city council also must issue a demolition permit for the property in question. In order to issue the permit, the property owner should pledge before the notary public on preservation of the occupants’ rights. Tishreen explained in its article that demolishing buildings with the aim of causing harm to the tenants is an abuse of rights, and that tenants may seek judicial recourse.