Damascus (AFP) – Abu Mohammed thought that he might eventually return home after the jihadists were expelled from his suburbs in Damascus, but he claims that the Syrian authorities blocked his return, wrongly declaring the flat unfit for life.
In May regime forces undermined the Islamic state group from a piece of the southern Tadamun district of the capital with a campaign of air strikes and shelling.
For the first time in six years, this meant restoring full control of the government over this area, bringing with it a peace that brought hope for a return home.
Instead, Abu Mohammed and the others in Tadamun complain that the authorities have decided that many mansions are not suitable and block their owners from returning before a controversial reconstruction plan.
Five months after IS was expelled, regime barriers hamper access to the former jihadist stronghold, which is now under strict protection, and the AFP team was unable to enter.
In the last checkpoint, debris blocked the road. The floors of the nearby building lay on top of each other, and a hole was blown in the minaret of the mosque.
Abu Mohammed said he was able to see his home before state inspectors arrived – and insisted that the official ruling was still okay.
"There was not even a bullet hole that had just been plundered," he said, giving a nickname to avoid repression.
"It's so unfair for citizens who have been waiting for years (to return) and have always stood by."
Another would-be-returned Othman al-Ayssami, 55, was indignant.
"Why can not I and thousands of other residents go home?" the lawyer asked.
"After military operations, I entered the district expecting huge damage," he said.
But in his four-story house, "only the windows were broken," he told Ayssami, not specifying whether his residence was considered inappropriate.
– "The right to return home" –
The area around Tadamun has been in the gray area for a long time.
Once the orchards had been inhabited since the late 1960s by people who fled from the Golan Heights occupied by Israel or were flooded with Damascus from the countryside, often without an official building permit.
But today his fate seems particularly uncertain after the provincial authorities announced that it would affect the controversial law of development.
The law, known as decree 10, allows the government to take over private property to create zonal changes, compensating owners for the shares of new projects.
If their land is chosen, the owners inevitably lose their property and must apply for participation in the exchange.
Construction will not start in Tadamun for several years, but officials have already been sent to inspect their homes.
The provincial commission was charged with damage assessment and an assessment of whether approximately 25,000 flats are suitable for housing for people.
Even if their homes are declared as standard, no resident can go back to dismissal.
When they realized that a large number of homes marked as unfit were not actually damaged during the fighting, members of the community held a series of meetings with the commission.
To vent their frustration, they set up a Facebook page called "The Tadamun Exiles".
"We have the right to go home," wrote one displaced resident.
– Red wax –
The Commission divided the district into three sectors, the last of which covers the area that was once controlled.
Faisal Srour, chairman of the commission, told AFP that in the first two sectors, the inspectors "have visited 10,000 homes so far, of which 2,500 are able to live and 1,000 are not."
The remainder was still classified, he said, but most units in the former jihadist sector may be declared unfit for service.
"That's where the fighting took place," he said.
Tadamun was taken over by the rebels in 2012, and then a portion of it fell three years later on jihadists from IS.
Over the years, most residents were forced to leave their homes, and currently there are 65,000 people living there, compared to 250,000 before the outbreak of war in 2011.
Houses declared to be habitable are marked with a serial number and sealed with red wax, and officials insist that the owners can easily recover them.
The resident can "recover (their home) normally after proving ownership," said Mayor Tadamun Ahmed Iskandar, talking with the portrait of President Bashar al-Assad in military uniform and sunglasses.
But because Tadamun is an informal district, only 10 percent of homes officially registered property deeds – and if they were not lost during the war.
Most of the others from this area have only semi-official documents showing their stay.
Even for those who manage to return, respite only appears temporarily.
Finally, the reconstruction, which will start in 4-5 years, should cause that the whole area will be razed to the ground.
Then, no more than one-tenth of the suburban residents will be able to present property records in order to receive shares in the reconstruction project.
But the head of the inspection commission Srour said that those who could not prove property – probably at least 90 percent of the population – would not be homeless.
"We will not throw people out on the street, but we provide them with compensation or alternative housing," he said.