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Exclusive - Damascus’ Ghouta: A Large Prison of Rubble and Fear

Exclusive - Damascus’ Ghouta: A Large Prison of Rubble and Fear

Sunday, 2 December, 2018 - 09:00
A destroyed shop in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta on July 19. (Reuters)
Damascus’ Ghouta – Asharq Al-Awsat
Life has not returned to normal to former opposition-held regions east of the Syrian capital Damascus. Months after the regime regained control of these areas, destruction is still prevalent and restrictions have been imposed on people seeking to return to their homes.

The Joubar neighborhood in eastern Ghouta acts as a gateway to Damascus. It lies a few hundred meters from the Abbasin square, the second largest and most important in Damascus after its Umayyad square.

A Joubar resident told Asharq Al-Awsat that the neighborhood is still completely devoid of its people after the regime blocked all of its entrances. It has barred them from returning after initially allowing them to inspect what was left of their homes after recapturing the area from the opposition.

The resident speaks behind closed doors of operations to sell the property to “unknown sides.”

These operations have intensified recently, he revealed in wake of the Damascus governor’s announcement in October of a plan to address “haphazard” residences around the capital. The plan will follow the controversial Law 10, whose first phase of implementation will be complete in 2019. Plans have so far been set for the Joubar, Barzeh, Ashr al-Warwar and Qaboun neighborhoods.

Unfulfilled promises

Meanwhile, the residents of Hrasta city, just north of Joubar, are blocked from entering it by regime checkpoints. Only those above 45 years of age are allowed in.

A resident, who went by the name Abou Ahmed, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “There is massive destruction throughout the city. Nearly 80 percent of the houses are still destroyed, while some 10 percent need renovation.”

Very few pedestrians walk the streets and those granted access are only in the city for a few hours.

“No one can live in Hrasta for even 24 hours,” said Abou Ahmed. “There is no electricity, running water or sewage facilities. Over six months ago, the regime promised to remove the rubble and reopen roads and we have yet to see any of that.”

“Pledges were made to pay compensation to the people to help them rebuild or renovate their homes, but these promises have not materialized yet,” he added.

“We have not even seen any international aid in this regard,” he revealed.

Moreover, Abou Ahmed accused the regime of seizing local property “as a form of revenge against the people.”

“It destroyed the people’s homes and even a mosque” in order to allegedly secure an area around a highway, he continued.

The regime is instead planning on building towers in the area, he revealed.

“The regime has robbed us,” he declared.

No return to Douma

Further north from Hrasta, Douma city appears to have incurred lesser damage because it did not witness heavy fighting after a “deal” was struck by the Jaish al-Islam group and the regime.

Life in Douma seems “somewhat normal” as it enjoys electricity and running water. Some 200,000 of its original residents are still there, a local told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Below the surface, however, he compared Douma to a prison because the regime checkpoints prevent the people from leaving.

It also imposes strict measures against the displaced. They are allowed access for only a few hours and they are forced to keep their identification cards at the checkpoints in order for the regime to keep tabs on their movement.

In addition, the regime has sought to control life in Douma through restricting the delivery of food and other essential products into the city.

Despite the obstacles, the renovation of buildings is underway through pro-regime cement companies. The residents are also paying for their own renovation process, said the local.

The greatest obstacle facing Douma residents is the campaign of arrests the regime is carrying out against the youth under the excuse of military conscription. Consequently, the streets are devoid of youth, who spend their days in hiding.

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