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Syria, Arab republic in southwest Asia.

Land and climate

Syria covers about 71,498 sq mi (185,180 sq km) and is bounded by Turkey on the north, Iraq on the east and southeast, Jordan and Israel on the south, and Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea on the west. Syria has a 100-mi (161-km)-long coastline on the Mediterranean. The coastal plain is separated from the inland reaches by a coast range, the Jebel Ansariya, part of the Lebanon Mountains. In the southwest, the border with Lebanon is marked by the Anti-Lebanon Mountains and Syria's highest peak, Mt. Hermon (9,232 ft/2,814 m). The mountains fall away to the plains of Hawran, extending from the Jebel ed Druz Mountains to the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River valley. To the east and southeast are the arid wastes of the Syrian Desert, dominating most of the country and extending through Jordan and Iraq into Saudi Arabia. Syria's largest river, the Euphrates, flows through the desert. The coastal region has a Mediterranean climate. In the inland plains and the desert, the climate is much harsher.


Over 70% of the Syrian people are Arab-speaking Sunnite Muslims, but there are also Kurdish, Turkish, Armenian, and Circassian minorities. Christian Orthodox churches claim some 1,000,000 members, and there are about 250,000 Druzes. The capital is Damascus.


About 25% of the people work in agriculture. Industry includes textiles, iron and steel, and assembly of transportation and electrical equipment. Exports include cotton, fruits and vegetables, and phosphates. Most oil revenues are derived from pipe lines crossing the country, but income from oil drilled in the northeast is increasing. The large Euphrates Dam power station, completed with aid from the Soviet Union, was opened in 1978.


Part of the Hittite Empire in the second millennium B.C., Syria was conquered in succeeding centuries by Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks. Under the Seleucids in the 4th century B.C., it was incorporated into the Roman Empire by Pompey in 63 B.C. Governed by the Byzantines from the 5th to the 7th centuries A.D., Syria was conquered by the Arabs in the 7th century A.D. and, in the centuries that followed, it was governed by the Umayyad caliphs, the Seljuk Turks, the Mongols, and the Mameluks. Part of the Ottoman Empire from 1516, Syria was mandated to the French after World War I and became fully independent in 1946. It joined with Egypt in the United Arab Republic from 1958 to 1961. The ruling Baathist Party, which assumed control of the government in 1963, favors socialism and pan-Arab nationalism. Its foreign policy aligns it with the Soviet Union and against the state of Israel. In the early 1980s, the Baathist regime under Hafezel-Assad faced a period of growing unrest and challenge to its authority from the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood. As a result of its participation against Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967, Syria lost control of the Golan Heights to an Israeli occupying force. In 1981 the Israelis annexed the area and tensions between the two countries increased. In 1976 Syrian troops intervened in the Lebanese civil war in support of Palestinians, and since then Syria has retained a force in Lebanon. Syrian forces suffered serious losses when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. Syria continued to maintain close ties with the Soviet Union and, although the regime has been linked to international terrorist organizations, its cooperation was sought by the United States in the Persian Gulf War (1990–91). Syrian troops were part of the international force created for the liberation of Kuwait. In the 1990s a process of economic and political liberalization took place. In 1996/97 peace negotiations with Israel were terminated due to the issue of returning the Golan Heights.


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