Damascus (AFP) – Abu Mohammed thought he could finally go home after jihadists were expelled from the outskirts of Damascus, but he said the Syrian authorities had blocked the return of incorrectly classifying his residence as unfit to live in.
In May, regime forces stormed the Islamic State group out of a piece of the Tadamun neighborhood south of the capital with a campaign of airstrikes and shootings.
For the first time in six years it meant that full control of the government was restored to the area, bringing calm which sparked hopes of return.
But on the contrary, Abu Mohammed and others from Tadamun complained, the authorities had considered many places of residence unfit, and prevented their owners from returning before controversial rebuilding plans.
Five months after IS was forced out, the regime's attacks prevented access to former jihadist camps which are now under tight security, and the AFP team cannot enter.
At the last checkpoint, debris blocked the road. The floor of the nearby building lay one above the other, and a hole was blown in the mosque tower.
Abu Mohammed said he had managed to see his house before state inspectors arrived – and insisted it was still good to stay there despite an official decision.
"There isn't even a bullet hole. It has just been looted," he said, giving a pseudonym to avoid retaliation.
"This is very unfair for citizens who have waited for years (to return) and always stand by the state."
A candidate who will return, Othman al-Ayssami, 55, is angry.
"Why can't I and thousands of other residents go home?" the lawyer asked.
"After the military operation ended, I entered the neighborhood expecting great damage," he said.
But in a four-story house, "only a broken window", said Ayssami, without determining whether his residence had been deemed inappropriate.
– & # 39; Right to go home & # 39; –
The Tadamun environment has long been in the gray zone.
After the garden, it has been inhabited since the late 1960s by people who fled the Israeli Golan Heights or flooded Damascus from the countryside, often without official permission to build there.
But today its fate seems very uncertain after the provincial government announced last month that it would be affected by controversial development laws.
The law, known as Decree 10, allows the government to seize private property to create zone development, compensate owners with shares of new projects.
If their land is chosen, the owner must lose their property and must apply to receive shares instead.
Construction was not planned to begin at Tadamun for several years, but officials had been sent to inspect his house.
The provincial commission has been accused of evaluating damage and assessing whether around 25,000 residential units are suitable for human habitation.
Even if their homes are declared to be standard, no residents can return until further notice.
When they realized that a large number of houses marked as inappropriate were not damaged in battle, community members held several meetings with commissions.
To vent their frustration, they made a Facebook page called "The Tadamun Exiles".
"This is our right to go home," wrote a resident who had fled.
– red candle –
The Commission has divided the environment into three sectors, the latter covering areas that have been controlled by IS.
Commission chief Faisal Srour told AFP that in the first two sector inspectors "have visited 10,000 houses to date, of which 2,500 are eligible to live and 1,000 not".
The rest is still classified, he said, but most units in the former jihadist sector tend to be considered inadequate.
"That's where the fighting takes place," he said.
Tadamun was flooded by rebels in 2012, then partially fell three years later to IS jihadists.
Over the years, most residents were forced to flee their homes, and only 65,000 people lived there today, compared with 250,000 before the outbreak of war in 2011.
Houses that are declared habitable are given a serial number and are sealed with red candles and officials insist that the owner can get back easily.
A resident can "get (their home) back to normal after proving ownership", mayor Tadamun Ahmed Iskandar told AFP, speaking with a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad in military uniforms and sunglasses.
But because Tadamun is an informal environment, only 10 percent of the houses have officially registered property certificates – and that is if they have not been lost during the war.
Most of the others in the area only have semi-official documents that indicate where they live.
Even for those who managed to return, the pause only seemed temporary.
In the end the reconstruction, which will begin in four to five years, must see the entire area leveled with land.
Then also, no more than a tenth of the suburban residents will be able to present property deeds to receive part of the reconstruction project.
But the head of the Srour inspection commission said those who could not prove ownership – possibly at least 90 percent of the population – would not be homeless.
"We will not throw people on the road, but give them compensation or alternative housing," he said.