Damascus to Grant Land to Russia for Expansion of Hmeimim Airbase

The Syrian government agreed to grant Russia eight hectares of land, as well as the same amount of coastal waters, in the Lattakia province, officially to establish healthcare facilities affiliated with the Russian Aerospace Forces.

Russia’s official Legal Information Portal published a document signed by representatives of the two countries. The Syrian government signed the document on July 21 after it was approved by the Russian government on June 30. The document states that the “Syrian Arab Republic agreed to transfer a plot of land and marine waters in Lattakia province to Russia.”

July’s agreement came within the framework of the “First Protocol Attached to the Agreement for Regulating the Russian Aerospace Forces’ Military Presence on the Territory of the Syrian Arab Republic,” reached between the two parties on August 26, 2015. This deal formally allowed direct Russian military intervention in the Syrian war.

The second clause of the protocol stipulates that Russia is not obligated to provide any compensation in return, and that the measure will remain valid as long as the main agreement for the Russian military presence is still in place.

According to the protocol, the area of land granted to Russia is to be eight hectares, adjacent to the Hmeimim airbase and its facilities. The land was determined by a map that was not published. Authorities also did not publish a map of the waters that are to be transferred to Russia, although it is referenced as being eight hectares in total off the coast of Lattakia with a width of 65 to 180 metres.

Damascus is not obligated to pay the costs of developing infrastructure in the area designated for the handover, including setting up electricity lines or any other construction needed for building on the plot of land. Russia reserves the right to contract Russian or Syrian individuals and companies to carry out construction.

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, a pan-Arab newspaper based in London, reported that part of the protocol was not released to the public to avoid embarrassment for Assad’s government, and to ensure the confidentiality of some details. That includes the construction of a medical centre, which was not an issue of discussion when Moscow first drew up the document in 2015.

Syrian authorities may have avoided making certain details public and added the idea of the medical centre as an attempt to quell dissent from residents of the area being granted to Russia. The plot of land is likely to be expropriated from the Alawite village of Sharasheer, which lies within the administrative district of Jableh, a coastal city in the southern part of Lattakia province. The town sits adjacent to the Hmeimim Airbase, next to Martyr Bassel al-Assad Civilian Airport.

In November 2015, Syrian authorities evacuated dozens of homes in Sharasheer suddenly and without securing alternative housing or compensation for evicted residents, according to Saudi-owned broadcaster Al Arabiya’s website. The move was based on Decree No. 343, released by Jableh’s municipal council on November 12, 2015, to seize 40 properties. Most of the properties were agricultural lands containing residential buildings. At the time, Jableh municipal authorities suggested expropriating the properties according to the market prices for construction, which they called “the maximum prices” for the lands. It is unclear if residents received compensation for their expropriated properties.

Residents of Sharasheer have so far expressed opposition to the expropriations process. In an undated document directed towards the Civil Aviation Authority, residents wrote that if the issue was related to the public safety and obstruction of warplanes at the nearby airbase and airport, then they would have no qualms over removing problematic structures from their properties. However, the document added that expropriation of the properties is a massive injustice and will lead to displacement of the town’s residents if no alternative housing is provided. “Sharasheer is home to more than 100 martyrs”, the document went on to say. As such, owners of the properties in question must be allowed to be present during any studies or field surveys to avoid injustice or damage because of expropriation.