Living in Hammouriyeh after Destruction and Looting

Around 1,000 families currently live in partially damaged homes or retail shops in the East Ghouta town of Hammouriyeh, though three years have passed since the Syrian regime recaptured the area.

Hammouriyeh is located about eight kilometres from the city centre of Damascus and had a population of roughly 20,000 people before 2011. Of the town’s original population, around 700 families today live in territory still under rebel control in northern Syria, while the rest is dispersed around the country and the world.

Hammouriyeh was long considered a nexus between the other towns and cities of East Ghouta, and was famous before 2011 for its handicrafts, such as mosaics, furniture, ropes, hemp bags, jams and preserves, and fruit trees. During the period of sieges and battles surrounding Damascus, Hammouriyeh was also home to the largest concentration of opposition-run hospitals and medical centres, due to the town’s central location within East Ghouta and easy access to the area for injured people. Many displaced people from elsewhere in East Ghouta sought refuge in Hammouriyeh.

On March 15, 2018, regime forces managed to capture Hammouriyeh after unprecedented bombing on the town. According to local sources, 25 percent of the town’s buildings are totally destroyed, while 70 percent are partially destroyed. From 2011 to 2018, around 850 people from the town were killed.

Regime forces prevented Hammouriyeh residents from returning to their homes until the town had been looted completely, in mid-2018.

The first returnees were families--mostly women and children--who had been transferred from so-called "shelter centres'' -- government run shelters for people who had escaped the final 2018 onslaught on East Ghouta. Men aged 18 to 50 were not permitted to accompany them on the return trip. Returning families were surprised by the degree to which regime forces had looted both public and private property in the town. Piles of debris remained in the streets; returnees had little choice but to gather funds themselves to remove the rubble and reopen their streets. Some of the streets are still closed off by earthen berms, such as the road that connects to the neighbouring city of Arbeen.

After some residents returned to Hammouriyeh, security forces ordered the municipality to conduct background checks on all the returning families and the extent to which any of them were previously tied to the opposition. The study included each family’s address, the name under which their home was listed, and whether the occupants of the house were the original owners. At the same time, security forces confiscated properties belonging to pro-opposition residents. Confiscated buildings were marked with the word “confiscated,” along with the name of the security branch involved--Military Security or Air Force Intelligence.

Such “confiscations” to not constitute an official confiscation of the property, but rather are conducted based on security information.

The property seizures and confiscations have extended to homes, workshops, farms and retail stores in Hammouriyeh. Among the confiscated properties are stonemasonry workshops, dried fruit factories and furniture workshops. They also included a large number of farms. The properties were completely looted before confiscation.

In charge of Hammouriyeh are Air Force Intelligence and Military Security. They have removed most of the roadblocks that once stood throughout the town, though some temporary checkpoints were set up during raids and arrests. Security forces continue to harass residents, particularly those with family members who were displaced to opposition-held northern Syria. Dozens of people have been investigated on charges of communicating with and receiving remittances from relatives in the north.