Owners of unlicensed factories and workshops in the city of Darayya in rural Damascus countryside called for the zoning of their area at a meeting with members of the Damascus and Rural Damascus Chamber of Industry in early November 2023. This area, as reported by the state-run Al-Baath newspaper on November 5, encompasses 450 facilities spread over 147 hectares.
Hikmat Al-Azab, the head of the Development Committee in Darayya and a member of the Parliament for the city, explained to the newspaper that these factories are situated on agricultural land, which complicates obtaining administrative and industrial licences and deprives them of investment benefits.
A correspondent for The Syria Report explained that this cluster of factories is located behind the Town Center commercial complex on the Damascus-Daraa international road. These unlicensed factories are built on unzoned agricultural land where construction is prohibited. The boundaries of this industrial area are unclear due to its overlap with informal settlements intertwined with Darayya city and Al-Qadam neighbourhood of Damascus, which has become part of the second-zoned real estate area of Damascus, known as Basilia City and was established under Decree No. 66 of 2012.
Mazhar Al-Sharbaji, former mayor of Darayya and former head of the Engineers Division in the Rural Damascus governorate, told The Syria Report that the lands behind the Town Center area are private agricultural properties extending to Darayya city. Some owners possess various land ownership documents, including court rulings and deeds. Meanwhile, the rest of the land is still undivided common properties.
This area was not destroyed during the war, though regime forces plundered some parts of it. During the war, some people built unlicensed dwellings on their own lands.
This contrasts with what happened in the neighbouring city of Darayya, which was besieged by regime forces from 2012 to 2016, leading to the forced displacement of its entire population after entire neighbourhoods were flattened due to aerial bombardment by regime forces. In August 2018, the Rural Damascus governorate announced that residents could return to Darayya, provided they submitted documents proving property ownership within the city and obtained prior security clearance. The partial return of residents began in mid-2019.
Mr Sharbaji told The Syria Report that the lands on which the industrial complex is located are unzoned, except in two areas. The first is the area surrounding the Damascus-Daraa international highway, known as the southern entrance to Damascus, which was zoned in 2003. Here, tourist, commercial and industrial projects such as the Town Center, International School of Choueifat, Al-Methalya Food LLC and Tuffaha Bakery were established. The second zoned area is Al-Nazal neighbourhood behind Town Center, which includes factories and craft workshops affiliated with the Darayya City Council. In the vicinity of these zoned areas, unlicensed industrial and craft factories and workshops built on unzoned agricultural land extended to the Al-Qadam neighbourhood of Damascus. Successive municipal authorities in Darayya and in the governorates of Damascus and Rural Damascus turned a blind eye to these violations, despite some being large factories like Ice Man, Khalil Plastics and industrial warehouses, according to Mr Sharbaji. Some of these facilities obtained exceptions for their construction. However, in reality, they remained unlicensed and were built on unzoned agricultural land.
Notably, the owners of factories behind the Town Center, during their meeting with the members of the Damascus and Rural Damascus Chamber of Industry, requested the implementation of Cabinet Circular No. 10/15/B issued on April 19, 2023, to resolve issues related to the administrative and industrial licensing of their factories and to facilitate their access to investment benefits. However, Circular No. 10 is problematic as it restricts the licensing of all types of industrial establishments, including those based on the processing of agricultural products, to cities and industrial areas only.
This led to the suspension of dozens of facilities outside these designated industrial cities and areas, whose owners had previously obtained preliminary approvals before the circular was issued. Implementing Circular No. 10 effectively means that none of the workshops and factories in the area behind the Town Center will be licensed. Despite media coverage in pro-government outlets, Circular No. 10 has not been published in the Official Gazette or any official government website.