Russia Seeks to Expand Aleppo Military Base Through Property Purchases

Russia is attempting to purchase real estate in Aleppo’s Handarat Palestinian refugee camp through an allied Syrian-Palestinian militia, with the goal of converting the area into a military base at the northern entrance to the city.

According to The Syria Report’s correspondent in the area, in late 2020, Liwa Al-Quds, a pro-Russian Palestinian militia, asked its youth groups to undertake a comprehensive survey of the camp population, as well as real estate properties, including their location and condition, ownership and scale of damage. The information gathered included contact details for all the property owners, both inside and outside the camp, so that Liwa Al-Quds could send offers to buy their properties through brokers and real estate offices.

Liwa Al-Quds was initially founded in 2012 as a militia loyal to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and recruited mainly Palestinian refugees from the Neirab and Handarat camps in Aleppo. The group fought alongside regime forces against the opposition in east Aleppo. In 2018, the group repositioned itself politically due to decreased Iranian funding, becoming Russia’s military arm in Aleppo.                  

Handarat, also known as Ayn Al-Tal Camp, is located just north of Aleppo, on the road leading to the Central Prison and the Free Trade Zone of Aleppo. The camp was established in the 1960s, built on rocky, elevated land opposite Al-Kindi Hospital. Handarat’s position made it the target of attacks by opposition factions in 2012 and 2013. Opposition forces managed to take control of the camp in mid-2013. More than 90 percent of the camp’s urban area was destroyed, according to local estimates, as the regime fought to recapture it in 2016 with Russian air support.

Russian forces have set up a military base north of the camp, with an adjoining training camp for Liwa Al-Quds fighters. Local sources from the camp told The Syria Report correspondent, that Russian forces are funding Liwa Al-Quds, whom they ordered to buy as much real estate as possible in Handarat camp to convert the area into a military zone entirely under Russian influence.

Brokers told real estate owners in the camp that restoring their properties would be “virtually impossible,” and that rehabilitation work on Handarat’s infrastructure and services, such as electricity, water and sewage networks would not occur in the foreseeable future, according to local sources from the camp. Brokers reportedly told some residents that the future of the area is unknown, and that their properties would be demolished, so it would be preferable for them to sell their properties and use the earnings to buy houses elsewhere.

The Syria Report’scorrespondent estimated that Liwa Al-Quds had been able to purchase about 70 homes in this manner in recent months, in the area directly adjoining the Russian military base. It was unclear exactly how much money Liwa Al-Quds paid for the properties, but some local sources said they were meagre sums.

About 8,000 Palestinian refugees were living in Handarat before 2011. After regime forces retook control of the camp in 2016, only about 2,000 of them returned. The camp subsequently became an important stronghold for Liwa Al-Quds.

Palestinian residents of the camp are living in largely destroyed homes and streets, as it is difficult for them to cover the cost of repairs due to the high price of building materials. Meanwhile, Liwa Al-Quds maintains a security perimeter around the camp which makes entering or exiting the camp more difficult, increasing pressure on residents to sell.

Handarat Camp.

Source: Social Media.