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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Syria extends deadline for contentious property law claims

The law has sparked anger in Lebanon where it is seen as an attempt to prevent refugees returning home

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem speaks during a news conference in Damascus, Syria June 2, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem speaks during a news conference in Damascus, Syria June 2, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

Syria has amended a controversial property law to allow people a year instead of a month to prove ownership of land seized for development, the foreign minister said on Saturday.

The law, known as Decree 10, allows Syria's government to seize private property for zoned developments and compensate proven owners with shares in the new projects.

Critics, including rights groups and neighbouring Lebanon, have warned the law could prevent millions of Syrians displaced by the seven-year war from returning home.

Owners inevitably lose their property under the decree but after the amendment now have up to a year - instead of 30 days - to claim shares after a new zone is announced if they prove ownership.

"The time period has been amended and become a year," Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said at a press conference in the Syrian capital.

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Mr Muallem said the nationwide law was "necessary" after the regime regained control of the former rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus in April, through a military assault and relocation deals that displaced tens of thousands from their homes.

"Property regulation was necessary to restore the rights of the owners," he said, accusing rebels of "burning real estate records" and "manipulating" property deeds when they held the region.

But critics have raised concerns about the repercussions of such a law, especially for those affiliated to anti-government groups who will likely not dare to make a claim.

Human Rights Watch has said the law amounts to "forced eviction".

Last week, Lebanon's Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil warned that Decree 10 could hinder the return of an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees who have sought refuge in his country.

But Mr Muallem on Saturday dismissed such charges as unfounded.

"We are keen for displaced Syrians to return to their hometowns and we will provide all necessary facilitations to those who wish to return," he said, adding he would send a reply to Mr Bassil on Sunday.

Syria's war started in March 2011 and has since forced more than five million people to flee the country and has displaced over six million internally.

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