Under Decision No. 991, issued on October 3, 2022, the Damascus governorate has agreed to grant “permits” for restoring, reinforcing, and rebuilding parts of licensed real estate properties in the Qaboun residential area. Recipients must implement these projects within six months of receiving their permits.
The governorate’s executive office stipulates that people wishing to obtain permits must meet certain conditions. They must obtain prior security approval and documents proving the structural soundness of their properties. In addition, they must provide ownership contracts and notarised pledges that they will not request any subsequent compensation should they be ordered to evacuate the area for zoning implementation purposes.
In June 2020, the Damascus governorate announced it had issued Detailed Zoning Plan No. 105 for the Qaboun residential area, in line with Planning and Urban Development Law No. 23 of 2015. The zoning plan was meant to be approved and issued by special decree, though this has yet to happen. In May 2021, some displaced residents were allowed to return to the Qaboun residential area after having met two conditions, i.e. submitting to a security investigation at the Air Force Intelligence branch in charge of the area and obtaining structural reports confirming their properties are safely habitable.
Interestingly, Decision No. 991 restricts restoration, reinforcement and reconstruction work to legally licensed properties, excluding any informally built structures. According to sources who spoke with The Syria Report, that leaves residents able to return to and restore buildings mainly in one area, a residential housing complex of apartment blocks and one-storey homes east of the Al-Ghufran Mosque. This area was not included in Detailed Zoning Plan No. 105, meaning it will not be re-zoned.
The buildings east of Al-Ghufran Mosque survived a wide-scale demolitions campaign carried out by regime forces after they had forcibly expelled residents and opposition fighters from the area in May 2017. These buildings are licensed, were built on previously zoned plots of land and were only partially damaged or not damaged by wartime fighting. Homeowners there also have official ownership documents. Sources told The Syria Report that the Damascus governorate would not grant restoration permits for damaged buildings in the area at risk of collapse, even if they were licensed or sit on previously zoned land.
Meanwhile, the conditions for obtaining security approval mean that the property owners who are eventually green-lighted to return home are those currently living in regime-held areas and are not wanted by the security services. If returnees have any family members who are wanted, they must commit to a “security settlement.” The settlements may include an extensive security investigation, arrest if there are unresolved search warrants, and military conscription for men who have yet to complete their military duty.
Appointed in July 2022, the new governor of Damascus set aside one day per week to listen to citizens’ complaints and petitions. Multiple delegations of Qaboun residents ended up visiting him. According to the preamble of Decision No. 991, which the governor signed, the decision came at the request of a member of the governorate’s executive office during a meeting held in late September. The decision had the unanimous support of the office at a meeting on October 3. Notably, October 3 was the last day the office met before the end of its term. Local administrative elections took place in September, with the new governorate council taking its constitutional oath and electing members of the new executive office on October 17. As a result, according to The Syria Report’s sources, the new office will be charged with following up on the implementation of Decision No. 991 without being responsible for issuing it.
One of the reasons for passing Decision No. 991 may be that the Damascus governorate needs more funds to start zoning the Qaboun residential area per Detailed Zoning Plan No. 105. This comes in light of the governorate’s failure in other zoning projects in Marota City and Basilia City, raising the new governor’s fears that unlicensed construction could restart in Qaboun if displaced residents are allowed to return. Meanwhile, the governor is trying to demolish unlicensed buildings across the capital city, following extensive, similar demolition campaigns he led during his time as governor of Hama. He is considered among the Syrian governors most keen on enforcing Decree No. 40 of 2012, which concerns unlicensed construction.