Tue 17 Jul 2018

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People in Wadi Barada Are Losing Their Economy

The town Ain al-Fijah in which the spring’s facility appears – 2015  (activists)

The town Ain al-Fijah in which the spring’s facility appears – 2015  (activists)

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A year and a half after the displacement of the people from the two towns of Ain al-Fijah and Basimah in Wadi Barada, the people lost their assets in the area around the al-Fijah spring, which is Damascus’ main sources of water, according to official regulations that the government of the Syrian regime started to apply on ground.

Last January, Bashar al-Assad, the head of the Syrian regime, issued the decree “no. 1”, according to which he specified the spring’s tow “direct and indirect” campuses, in addition to two campuses around the water tunnel, which passes through the two towns, reaching Damascus.

“Al-Fijah Spring Campus” Presidential Decree

According to the decree, two campuses, spatial circles, direct and indirect would be constructed around the al-Fijah spring. Although the new decree has not yet accurately defined the dimensions of the two campuses, the Syrian regime’s government has flattened a circle, the radius of which is 210 meters from the spring, being the center, planning to fix the dimensions of the direct and indirect campuses with real markers on the ground.

According to the same decree, two campuses would be constructed around the two (the new and the old) water supply tunnels, which transport water from the spring to Damascus. The width of the area of the direct campus around the two tunnels is ten meters, according to the attached scheme that has been prepared by the General Company for Engineering & Consulting (GCEC). The width of the indirect campus is 20 meters at each side of the two water supply tunnels, starting from the tunnels’ axes including the [direct] campus.

The decree bestows the government of the Syrian regime the right to appropriate the real-estates and the parts of the real-estates that are located in the range of the direct campus according to the schemes that are attached to the degree, in return for a monetary compensation that equals the real value of the possession.

 “Banned” Actions

According to the new law, the towns that are based in the indirect campus of the al-Fijah Spring and the two tunnels of water supply are allowed a limited range of actions, which are rain-fed agricultural works without using pesticides or fertilizers with cumulative effect, raising cattle in the currently followed manner, in addition to the renovation of the existing houses only.

The violetears of the above-mentioned restrictions will be penalized with imprisonment that ranges from six to a year and a fine of 500 thousand Syrian pounds.

In the direct campus of the spring and the two tunnels, the following actions are entirely prohibited: drilling wells, pothole-patching, removal of stones, dust or sand, as well as the formation of quarries.

It is also prohibited to build residential, industrial, commercial or tourist buildings, as well as constructing or upgrading roads, in addition to extensions or tanks, no matter for what use they are made.

Basimah Loses the Third of its Area and Ain al-Fijah Its Weight

The former Director of the Local Council in the towns of Wadi Barada Salem Nasrallah believes that the decree is unjust to the area’s population for it will lead to the appropriation of large areas of their possessions.

The old water supply tunnel in the town of Basimah extends to a distance of about a kilometer, which means that an area of 2000 square kilometers is included within the “old and new” water tunnel’s campus in the town; the entire area is appropriated.

In addition to the campus around the railway and the river, the areas of which will be added to the water supply tunnel’s two campuses, which means that the town of Basimah alone will be losing the third of its area for the advantage of the water tunnel, the river and the railway campus, according to Nasrallah.

Ain al-Fijah, similarly, has lost half of its area to the spring’s campus; this is the most densely populated area, for it incubates the majority of tourist, vital and administrative facilities, including the town’s main market.

“Abu Ahmad,” from Ain al-Fijah, told Enab Baladi that “I used to have a restaurant in the town, at the banks of Barada; it was may only source of living, before it was destroyed due to the military campaign and it was removed after the campaign on the pretext of the direct spring’s campus and water security.”

He stressed the fact that he and his siblings have also lost their houses for the same reasons, without any form of compensation so far. He does not know details about the compensation procedures or the value that will be offered to him in return for the land.

“Abu Ahmad” was prevented from going back to his land or the rubble of his home and restaurant. “Today, I am displaced in the capital’s suburbs. Every month I pay a large amount of money as a rent and other monthly expenses. I have lost everything for no reason and received no compensation. Our houses and neighborhoods were turned into military areas and facilities for the spring,” he said.

“Mustafa N” from the neighboring town of Basimah told Enab Baladi that the water tunnel campus passes through his land, which extends over a few dunums.

We have been displaced for a year and a half now; we have lost all that we have managed to make through years, so that a new decree is passed to vanquish all the hope left for us in the return,” added Mustafa, showing despair over the potential return to his town.

The People Are Not Allowed to Return

The area was under the control of the opposition military factions for a number of years, before it was a target for Assad’s forces and Russia’s air forces’ attacks on December 28, 2016, for the regime, back then, has started the operation with an intensified aerial shelling; the operations, without prior notice, concentrated on the two towns of Basimah and Ain al-Fijah, although the tow areas were included in the “de-escalation” agreement during Astana talks.

The spring’s facility, the vital and administrative centers in Ain al-Fijah were destroyed under the military campaign, including the area’s landlines company, the municipality, the area’s administrative building, the birth registration department and medical centers, before the regime could conduct an agreement that provided for a full exit of the factions towards northern Syria, on January 31, 2017, which ended with the regime’s full control over the area.

When the military campaign halted, the checkpoints of the Syrian regime prevented the people of Basimah and Ain al-Fijah from returning to the area, despite the offered promises in the agreement.

The former director of the Local Council in the towns of Wadi Barada Salem Nasrallah told Enab Baldi that following the end of the military campaign and the military factions’ exit to northern Syria, the regime has closed the entrances to the tow towns of Basimah and Ain al-Fijah and prevented the people from getting in, considering the areas a “military zone.”

Nasrallah pointed out that one of the regime’s officers told Basimah’s people, when they requested an entry to the town as to get some of their personal belongings, that “You have lost the war, this town with all that it contains are war spoils, to which no one but us have right to.”

According to witnesses, people from the area, the air forces have directly attacked the spring in Ain al-Fijah in the first days of the military campaign, depriving Damascus of water, the thing which led to a “water crisis” in the capital city that lasted for almost a month.

Cross-sources told Enab Baladi that direct targeting of the spring during the military campaign, came in sync with hindering the suggestions that the area’s factions proposed as to sit at the negotiations table and to reach a solution, while the governmental narrative focused on presenting the factions as the side responsible for the water crisis.

The Tourist Facilities Importance for People

Economically, the people in the two towns of Basimah and Ain al-Fijah depend on the tourist facilities, including restaurants, canteens and parks, for the area is fundamentally known for its tourist activities and nature, in addition to markets at the level of the villages, through which people make their daily living.

The area of Wadi Barada is one the most important tourist areas in Damascus and its rural parts and one of the best-known summer areas; it is famous for its natural scenery, through which Barada river passes. Ain al-Fijah town is the favorite destination for tourists and contains about 80 restaurants at the river’s banks and around the spring. These restaurants are large facilities in terms of space and costs.

A map presenting the areas appropriated in Ain al-Fijah according to the new decree

A map presenting the areas appropriated in Ain al-Fijah according to the new decree

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