Aleppo: Earthquake Destroys Buildings Previously Damaged by Regime Bombing, While Pro-Iran Militias Remove the Rubble
In Aleppo, damage from the devastating February 6 earthquake centred around the city’s eastern neighbourhoods. There, most of the buildings that fell had already been cracked, while some were at risk of collapse due to previous bombardment by regime forces in the area.
During a press conference on February 19, the governor of Aleppo said that 53 buildings had collapsed entirely due to the earthquake. A source in the Aleppo City Council told The Syria Report that 50 of the 53 collapsed buildings were in formerly opposition-held parts of east Aleppo. Some of these collapsed buildings were uninhabitable, abandoned and already at risk of falling. In addition, in eastern Aleppo, ten mosques and many school buildings partially collapsed, all of which had previously been damaged by regime bombings in the area.
The other three collapsed buildings, of 53, were reportedly old and dilapidated in the Saif Al-Daula and Al-Azizia neighbourhoods in the city centre. No collapses were recorded in Aleppo’s western neighbourhoods that were spared the armed conflict of recent years.
The governor of Aleppo said in his press conference on February 19 that 220 at-risk buildings were demolished, but he did not specify the locations of those buildings. The Syria Report correspondent said that at least 58 buildings were destroyed in the eastern neighbourhoods of Aleppo until February 18. The correspondent noted that Aleppo City Council work crews had demolished some of those buildings on recommendations from the construction safety committees. The council also ordered dozens of residents in other cracked buildings to evacuate so that those could be demolished.
Notably, joint work crews affiliated with militias loyal to the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC): the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and Failaq Mudafain Halab (Aleppo Defenders Corps) handled the demolition of most of those 58 buildings. They swept away a portion of the rubble to reopen local streets. Failaq Mudafain Halab is considered among the main components of Hezbollah in Syria. It has military, security and public services authority over large parts of Aleppo city. After the earthquake, the PMF sent Failaq Mudafain Halab work crews and equipment to help clear the rubble. These joint work crews are now demolishing additional buildings in Al-Ferdaus and Jisr Al-Haj neighbourhoods of east Aleppo.
East Aleppo is home to large informal settlements where opposition forces took hold between 2012 and 2016. Regime forces besieged the area, bombarding it with missiles, heavy artillery fire, and airstrikes by the Syrian and Russian air forces. Direct bombardment destroyed vast swathes of these neighbourhoods.
After regime forces retook east Aleppo with the help of loyalist militias, neighbourhoods there saw frequent building collapses due to the lasting effects of indirect bombing damaged by missiles. Most of these damages were not immediately visible, impacting the building foundations due to the loosened ground soil. The bombing also destroyed the water and sewage networks, thus allowing water to leak into the foundations of the buildings, thus exposing them to danger. In November 2022, the Aleppo City Council began a campaign to demolish 1,500 structures at risk of collapse.
The city council allocated more than 200 shelters for survivors of the recently collapsed buildings and for people who needed to leave homes put at risk of collapse by the earthquake. These shelters were mainly in east Aleppo schools, mosques and gymnasiums. Some were also located in the silk market in Al-Furqan neighbourhood of western Aleppo city. Residents impacted by the evacuations were moved to 150 apartments that the city council had allocated as temporary housing in the Masaken Hananou neighbourhood and 25 apartments belonging to the Directorate of Railways in the Rehabilitation and Training Building in Al-Shaikh Taha.
However, these shelters were not enough to accommodate all those fleeing their cracked homes, fearing earthquake aftershocks. Two weeks after the earthquake, hundreds of families are still sheltering in tents beneath the Jisr Al-Shaar, Jisr Maisaloun, and Jisr Al-Haj bridges, the latter of which was damaged in the quake. Some people also set up tents on sidewalks and in public parks.
Some families told The Syria Report’s correspondent that they preferred to stay in tents because the shelters are overcrowded and the services they provide are unsatisfactory. They added that corruption and favouritism were rampant in distributing aid supplies. Some people said that the temporary housing in Masaken Hananou and the Rehabilitation and Training Building was discriminatory and required wasta (connections in Arabic) with state employees, city and governorate councils, the Baath Party or loyalist militias, which often involves the payment of bribes.