BEIRUT: The Assad regime has withdrawn a law that allowed authorities to seize property left behind by civilians who fled the war in Syria, the UN humanitarian aid chief in the country said on Thursday.
Under Law 10, Syrians had 30 days to prove that they own property in redevelopment zones in order to receive shares in the projects, otherwise ownership was transferred to the local government.
The law was a major impediment to the return of millions of refugees and internally displaced people who fled their homes. Regime officials have insisted the law would not result in the confiscation of property, but was aimed at proving and organizing ownership to combat forgery of documents in opposition-held areas.
Jan Egeland, who heads aid issues in the office of UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, said he had been told of the decision to withdraw the law by Russia, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s key military ally.
“When Russia says that it is withdrawn and there were mistakes made … it is good news,” Egeland said. “Hopefully this will now be reality on the ground. So diplomacy can win — even in Syria.”
Syrian politician Mohammed Kheir Akkam said the law had issued by presidential decree and he knew of no decree to abolish it. “These claims are not true so far,” he said.
Nevertheless, Syrian refugees across the border in Lebanon welcomed reports that the law had been withdrawn. “We have not heard the news yet, but this is an excellent move,” Abu Mohammed, who is from Al-Qusayr and is the former head the water department in Homs, told Arab News.
“This move reflects the goodwill of the Syrian regime toward its displaced people abroad. Their discourse is no longer an escalation against us, but an attempt to re-establish trust between Syrian citizens and the Syrian regime.”
Khalid Melhem, from Qalamoun, said the withdrawal of the law was “a gesture of goodwill, on which trust can be built.”
Melhem, an interior designer in Syria, now lives in a tent in Arsal and works as a house painter. “I own a 300-square-meter house in Damascus, but the authorities demolished it and acquired the land. I could not return to Syria to prove my ownership of the house because they want to lure me into the country and arrest me.”
The regime acquired the property, 600 meters from the barracks of the Scientific Studies and Research Center, in 2017. “They demolished all damaged houses surrounding the barracks and prevented anyone from approaching the property except for a few Alawites, who were allowed to rebuild and reclaim their homes,” Melhem said.