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Syria families evacuated from unsafe homes in Aleppo

Syrian opposition members and their families gather to get into buses during an evacuation from the al-Waer neighbourhood, in the western outskirts of the central city of Homs, Syria on March 18, 2017. [Stringer / Anadolu Agency]
Syrian opposition members and their families gather to get into buses during an evacuation from the al-Waer neighbourhood, in the western outskirts of the central city of Homs, Syria on 18 March, 2017 [Stringer/Anadolu Agency]

Some 4,000 Syrian families have been evacuated from their homes in the city of Aleppo, amid concerns that thousands of buildings are unsafe to live in, according to Syrian news agency Al-Souria Net.

The move comes after a five story tower block in the Salaheddin district collapsed on Saturday, killing 11 people, including at least four children. One child was pulled out alive from the rubble after rescue teams worked for hours to free him.

The incident has prompted discussions on the safety of residential towers in the eastern district of the city, with Aleppo Governor Hussein Diab stating that families would be moved to alternative housing while their homes were repaired or demolished and rebuilt.

At least 10,000 buildings in the area are believed to be on the brink of collapse, having been besieged and heavily bombarded by the Assad regime and Russia, while under opposition control in 2016. The siege resulted in the eventual departure of opposition groups, surrendering the city to government control. UN satellite data from 2017 suggested that more than 35,000 structures in the city had suffered damage in the battle.

Yet three years later, most social services in the east of the city have still not been resumed, with continual delays in the removal of rubble, securing electricity and water, or repairing basic facilities. The lack of basic infrastructure has caused severe hardship for those who returned to their homes, at the invitation of the Assad regime, despite the dire circumstances.

READ: Political solution in Syria ‘precondition to resume relations with Assad’

As much of the fighting in the country winds down, President Bashar Al-Assad has looked to secure funding for the reconstruction of Syria estimated to cost some $388 billion. Last year the governor of Homs province Talal Al-Barazi told reporters that Syria needed a million new housing units, but only a small amount of reconstruction has taken place, carried out by private contractors.

With Syria’s economy in tatters and with the country still facing sanctions from many Western countries, including the US, Europe and UN, the Syrian government has appealed to allies Russia and Iran, who have supported the regime’s brutal crackdown on the 2011 uprising.

Last month, Syria and Iran signed a deal to ease bank transfers between the two countries with the hope of bolstering the country’s flailing financial sector. Syria’s state-owned and 14 private banks have sustained major losses during the war and do not have the liquidity to invest seriously in reconstruction.

According to Syrian state media, Iran has also committed to building a 213 billion Syrian pound ($412 million), 526MW power plant at Latakia, and a gas pipeline from Baniyas to fuel it, to be finished in three years.

However, Tehran is facing economic challenges of its own following the renewal of US sanctions by President Donald Trump last year. Whilst Iran has been awarded several construction and telecoms contracts as a reward for its support during the war, its ability to effectively contribute to Syria’s restoration remains uncertain.

The war in Syria has killed more than 560,000 people, the vast majority by regime-allied forces. The Al-Assad government has used chemical weapons against civilians on scores of occasions, with tens of thousands in prison facing torture and execution. Despite the regime calling for refugees to return to the country, over one million people are still listed as wanted on government databases, with those Syrians who supported the opposition fearing state reprisals.

READ: 197 civilians killed in Syria in January

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