Qaterji and Abu Ali Khodr extort people in Aleppo to sell destroyed buildings

Destroyed buildings in Aleppo city - 2021 (Shutterstock)

Destroyed buildings in Aleppo city - 2021 (Shutterstock)

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Aleppo – Saber al-Halabi

The anger and resentment expressed on Abdul Karim al-Hassan’s face could mirror the level of suffering experienced by Aleppo residents living under the Syrian regime and its affiliated militias’ control. 

Forty-nine-year-old al-Hassan renovated two rooms and built a new floor above his house in the al-Shaar neighborhood, only for Aleppo city council’s workers to come and demolish what he built during August and mid-September.

Al-Hassan told Enab Baladi that he had borrowed a sum of three and a half million Syrian pounds (SYR = approximately 1000 USD) and added it to another two million SYP (about 570 USD) he had to reconstruct two rooms partially destroyed by the city’s offensives and build a new floor for his son to live in.

“I was shocked by their arrival to demolish what I have built. I tried to bribe them, but they refused to take any money. I showed them the building and restoration permission, but they refused to acknowledge it,” al-Hassan said.

He continued by saying, “I contacted powerful connections to mediate the issue, but they informed me that the majority of my area’s houses had been sold to Syrian businessman Hussam Qaterji.”

“They brought down what I had built because I refused to sell my house a year and a half ago when I received an offer to sell it at a low price,” al-Hassan said. 

The systematic demolition is part of a new reconstruction plan

Even though building and restoration licenses are being granted to owners of properties in informal neighborhoods, demolitions continue to take place because “these neighborhoods will be incorporated in a new construction plan,” an employee at Aleppo city council told Enab Baladi on the condition of anonymity for security reasons.

The employee pointed out plans to set up housing complexes throughout Aleppo city, particularly in war-damaged neighborhoods. There are also some incomplete contracts to demolish destroyed residential buildings, including those of two are three stories situated in slum areas as part of the area’s reconstruction plan. 

This is why the city council is tightening on those restoring about 60 percent or more of their houses in some Aleppo neighborhoods. As for war-affected buildings with over 30 percent risk level for fall, they will be demolished even if they had received rehabilitation work, the employee told Enab Baladi.

Asaad (aged 53) told Enab Baladi that the city council workers demolished three rooms he restored after being destroyed by the bombing on the area. The workers refused to take Asaad’s one million SYP (285 USD) to stop the demolition.  

Before the three rooms were brought down in September, Asaad received an offer to sell his house in the Salah Eddin neighborhood for 25 million SYP (7,100 USD), but he refused to sell because he had restoration plans in mind.

The head of Aleppo city council, Maad al-Madlaji, has threatened that no laxity will be shown to violations of building codes and pledged extensive patrols to monitor and prevent the construction or restoration of any building. He also ordered demolition campaigns to remove building violations.

The Aleppo city council carries demolition operations to what it calls building violations on a regular basis. In October only, the council demolished over 32 restored and reconstructed residential buildings.

Employees of the public safety committee of Aleppo city council check buildings before granting a restoration permit. During the safety check, the person intending to renovate pays a certain amount to prevent demolition and has the employees write down a risk level under 15 percent to allow restoration and then habitation. 

According to the 2019 “Syrian Cities Damage Atlas” report issued by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) in cooperation with the REACH initiative, Aleppo governorate has witnessed the highest level of destruction in Syria, with 4,773 completely destroyed buildings, 14,680 severely destroyed buildings, and 16,269 partially destroyed building, bringing the total of damaged buildings to 35,722.

The destruction of buildings is visible in Aleppo’s cities and villages. Afrin city in the northern countryside of Aleppo has 67 completely destroyed buildings, 26 severely damaged buildings, and 103 partially destroyed buildings, bringing the total of damaged buildings to 196.

Hussam Qaterji and Abu Ali Khodr’s role in the demolition issue

At the beginning of October, dozens of gravely damaged renovated residential buildings and newly constructed structures were demolished.

The demolition took place even after homeowners paid large amounts to employees of Aleppo city council to prevent their houses’ destruction, with some of them being fit for habitation.

Enab Baladi has learned that homeowners in the neighborhoods of al-Maysar, al-Jazmati, Tareeq al-Bab, al-Zabdiyeh, and Saif al-Dawla received offers to sell their rehabilitated properties sometime during the past two years, but they refused to sell because the price they got was not enough to buy a house of two rooms and their utilities. 

Muhammad, a resident of the al-Maysar neighborhood, told Enab Baladi that real estate brokers had offered to buy his house several times, but he refused. “They paid me 20 million SYR (6000 USD), which is a small amount for my two-story house. They warned me the house would be demolished, and I knew they were buying houses for the benefit of businessmen Hussam Qaterji and Abu Ali Khodr (Khodr Taher). 

“I refused to sell my house and secured five million SYP (1,420 USD) to restore it, but after the restoration was completed, the council workers came and demolished it, after fining me with one million and 145 thousand SYP (325 USD).

According to the Iqtisadi local website, Abu Ali Khodr is the owner of Ella Tourism Company and co-founder of Jasmine Contracting Company with a share of  90 percent worth 22 million and 500,000 SYR (6.392 USD). He is the head and co-founder of the Syrian Hotel Management Company’s board of directors, with 66.66 percent share, valued at 3 million and 333,000 SYR (946 USD).

In early 2019, Khodr launched the Emma Tel communications company and opened the company’s first service center in the Mazzeh Highway area in Damascus, with several other branches to be operated in Damascus in the neighborhoods of Jaramana, Abu Rummaneh, and Shaalan and other governorates, namely Homs, Tartus, Latakia, and Aleppo.

In 2016, Syrian businessman Hussam Qaterji became a parliament member representing workers and farmers of Aleppo governorate.

Qaterji announced the establishment of the Arfada Petroleum Company in Damascus with a capital of one billion SYP (284,090 USD), according to the Iqtisadi website. Hussam Qaterji owns 34 percent of the company’s shares, his brother Muhammad Baraa Qaterji owns 33 percent, while Ahmed Bashir (Muhammad Baraa Qaterji’s son) owns 33 percent of the company’s shares. 

 

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