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Syria: Bulldozers Scoop Slow Way to Recovery in Yarmouk

Syria: Bulldozers Scoop Slow Way to Recovery in Yarmouk

Saturday, 13 October, 2018 - 07:00
Syrian soldiers patrol at the Yarmouk Camp district in south Damascus, Syria, 22 May 2018. EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI
Damascus - Asharq Al-Awsat
Once home to 160,000 Palestinian refugees, the camp of Yarmouk in the Damascus suburbs has been besieged, emptied of its inhabitants and pounded to rubble in Syria's seven-year war.

But five months after regime forces expelled the last militants in the area, soldiers now stand guard at the camp's entrance, wearing face masks to protect themselves against the dust billowing up into the air, Agence France Presse reported.

On a narrow street inside the camp where he grew up, Mahmoud Khaled has returned to help oversee bulldozers and diggers engaged in joint Palestinian-Syrian clean-up operations.

"When we first entered, we were horrified by what we saw," said the 56-year-old engineer, wearing a light grey and white checkered shirt.

"But after we started the clean-up, it all started to look up," Khaled said.

"We have shifted 50,000 cubic meters of rubble and reopened all the main roads," Khaled said. 

But "it will be a while before families can come back", he added.

With about a fifth of Yarmouk reduced to rubble, according to an initial estimate, Khaled said there is still much work to be done.

And although he estimates 40 percent of the buildings could be lived in, another 40 percent need major work before their residents can return.

Set up in 1957 to house Palestinian refugees, Yarmouk grew over the decades into a bustling district of the capital.

But the area has seen some of the worst suffering since Syria's conflict erupted in 2011, and today lies largely abandoned.

In 2012, around 140,000 residents fled clashes, leaving the rest to face severe food shortages under government siege.

Two years later, a harrowing photograph of gaunt-looking residents massing between bombed-out buildings to receive aid sparked global outrage.

Off Yarmouk's main artery, recently cleared side streets are flanked by buildings ravaged by years of fighting, the AFP reporter said.

Some have been reduced to mountains of grey rubble and mangled rebar. In others, entire floors dangle dangerously downwards, their steel rods jutting out.

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