AMMAN: Syrian army bulldozers razed houses in western Damascus Monday, pursuing what activists called the first campaign of collective punishment targeting people’s property in areas of the capital hostile to President Bashar Assad.
Bulldozers backed by combat troops demolished buildings in the low-income Tawahin district, near the Damascus-Beirut highway, activists and residents said.
“They started three hours ago. The bulldozers are bringing down shops and houses. The inhabitants are in the streets,” said a woman who lives in a high-rise building overlooking the area.
Syrian authorities restrict independent media access, making it hard to verify accounts of the conflict from both sides.
Troops forced residents to erase anti-Assad graffiti and write slogans glorifying the president instead, activists said.
“This is an unprovoked act of collective punishment. The rebels had left, there are no longer even demonstrations in the area,” said Mouaz al-Shami, a campaigner collecting video documentation of the demolitions.
“The regime can’t stop itself from repeating the brutality of the 1980s,” he said, alluding to mass killings and wholesale destruction in the city of Hama in 1982 under Assad’s father, the late Hafez Assad, who ruled Syria for 30 years. Hama had been a center of a revolt by the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s.
“The regime has not changed. It will not,” Shami said.
Activists also reported the razing or burning of at least 200 houses and shops in the old part of the southern city of Deraa in the past few days. Army shelling had largely emptied the area, prompting 40,000 people to flee to Jordan.
Opposition campaigner Rami al-Sayyed said: “This the first time we see a systematic campaign to raze houses and shops using direct means like bulldozers that seems to be concentrating on Damascus and its environs.”
Bulldozers entered the Khashabeh area of the northern Damascus suburb of Harasta Monday and began razing houses in the neighborhood.
The latest wave of demolitions follows the destruction of dozens of buildings in an area next to Tawahin in Damascus Sunday and in the neighborhood of Qaboun last month.
“I visited Qaboun yesterday. It is no longer a dense neighborhood. I could see from one end of the neighborhood to the other because so many buildings have been razed,” said another Damascus activist who gave her name only as Yasmine.
The army, which appears to have regained control of Damascus proper after an insurgent offensive that began in July, shelled outlying southern and eastern districts overnight to try to drive out rebels still operating there, opposition groups said.
However, a bomb attack Sunday targeted military and security compounds in the heart of Damascus, in what was claimed by rebels as revenge for recent killings in the suburb of Daraya, where the opposition said the regime was responsible for the deaths of more than 300 people.
Opposition groups said at least two people were killed in the southern neighborhood of Qadam and charged that government troops also made forays into eastern suburbs battered by artillery and air power in recent weeks, arresting and summarily executing young men.