January 30, 2014

IV. Demolitions in Tadamoun neighborhood, Damascus

Dates of demolitions: September 8-November 29, 2012; February 4-July 1, 2013;

Estimated area demolished: 15.5 hectares

July 16, 2012

November 29, 2012

Satellite imagery analyzed by Human Rights Watch show that buildings in an area measuring 15.5 hectares in the Tadamoun neighborhood in southern Damascus were demolished in two waves: the vast majority of demolition occurred at some point between September 8 and November 29, 2012, followed by more limited demolition at some point between February 4 and July 1, 2013.[30]

Local residents, media reports, and government and opposition statements indicate that the first wave of the demolitions in the Tadamoun district in Damascus followed the same pattern as the demolitions in the Qaboun district (see above). As one of the districts in Damascus under opposition control, Tadamoun saw some of the most intensive clashes of the battle for the capital that took place in July 2012. The neighborhood was described as the opposition’s “last stronghold” as government troops forced opposition fighters to retreat after heavy fighting.[31] Local residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch described fierce shelling of the neighborhood by government forces starting from July 15.[32] Satellite imagery shows active fire and a dense smoke plume on the rooftop of a six-story residential apartment building in the morning of July 16.[33]

According to two local residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the July 2012 fighting caused many residents to leave, and by early August, opposition fighters who had remained in the neighborhood also left, allegedly because they ran out of ammunition.[34] The claim that opposition fighters retreated in early August is consistent with official statements. On August 4, 2012 several media outlets quoted a military spokesperson saying that the army had “cleansed” several areas in Damascus, including Tadamoun, and that the situation was “excellent and stable.”[35]

The two local residents told Human Rights Watch that government forces started demolishing houses in Tadamoun using explosives and bulldozers in September 2012.[36] The first signs of demolition are visible in satellite imagery recorded on September 8.[37] The satellite imagery, showing relatively neat piles of rubble where there were once houses, indicates that the demolition was carried out in a controlled and professional manner.

According to Ahmad who witnessed the destruction, residents received very short warning. He said:

Owners were given one hour to evacuate their homes. I saw people throwing their belongings from the windows. I wanted to help but I was afraid because the Syrian army was there.[38]

The demolitions were also reported by an international journalist who visited Tadamoun in mid-October 2012 when demolitions were still taking place.[39]

Satellite imagery and videos posted on YouTube show that government forces also demolished 12 high-rise residential apartment buildings by controlled explosions in the neighborhoods of al-Zahirat and al-Zohour (al-Qazzaz), adjacent to Tadamoun, between September 22 and November 29, 2012.[40]

Human Rights Watch was not able to identify any witnesses to the second wave of demolitions between February and July 2013 or find any official government statement or decree about the demolitions in Tadamoun.

[30]Satellite imagery dates analyzed by Human Rights Watch: September 8 and 22, October 3, 2012, February 4, and July 1, 2013; Sources: EUSI, USG and Astrium; Copyright: DigitalGlobe 2014 and CNES 2014.

[31] “Syria crisis: UN Assembly condemns Security Council,” BBC News, August 3, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19106250 (accessed August 8, 2013).

[32] Human Rights Watch phone interview, February 18, 2013; Human Rights Watch phone interview February 19, 2013.

[33]Satellite imagery dates analyzed by Human Rights Watch: September 8 and 22, October 3, 2012, February 4 and July 1, 2013; Sources: EUSI, USG and Astrium; Copyright: DigitalGlobe 2014 and CNES 2014.

[34] Human Rights Watch phone interview, February 21, 2013; Human Rights Watch phone interview, February 19, 2013.

[35] See for example, “Syrian Army Controls All of Damascus,” Naharnet, August 4, 2012, http://www.naharnet.com/stories/ar/48953(accessed August 5, 2013); “Syrian army declares Damascus' rebellious district ‘cleaned of armed groups’,” Xinhua News [English edition], August 5, 2012,http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2012-08/05/c_123529591.htm (accessed August 13, 2013).

[36] Human Rights Watch phone interview, February 21, 2013; Human Rights Watch phone interview, February 19, 2013.

[37]Satellite imagery dates analyzed by Human Rights Watch: September 8 and 22, October 3, 2012, February 4 and July 1, 2013; Sources: EUSI, USG and Astrium; Copyright: DigitalGlobe 2014 and CNES 2014.

[38] Human Rights Watch phone interview, February 21, 2013.

[39] Sam Dagher, “Fighting to Hold Damascus, Syria Flattens Rebel 'Slums',” Wall Street Journal, November 27, 2012,http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204707104578092113759746982.html?mod=googlenews_wsj#articleTabs=article

[40]Satellite imagery dates analyzed by Human Rights Watch: September 22, and November 29, 2012; Sources: EUSI, USG and Astrium; Copyright: DigitalGlobe 2014 and CNES 2014. See also, “الشبيحة تقوم بتفجيرالمباني في الزاهرة الجديدة 9 10 2012,” (“Shabeeha bombs the buildings in new al-Zahra 9 10 2012”), October 9, 2012, video clip, YouTube, http://youtu.be/Ol6w_hfwCjs (accessed August 12, 2013); “تـفجير وهدم الابنية في دمشق- الزاهرة من قبل قوات الاسد,” (“Bombing and demolition of buildings in Damascus – al Zahra by Assad forces”), September 24, 2012, video clip, YouTube, http://youtu.be/Lk8D9nJm-R4 (accessed August 10, 2013).