Assad declares 'national catastrophe' after forest fires
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday visited areas in northwestern Syria which were affected by forest fires and declared them to be a "national catastrophe".
Scores of fires, said to be fuelled by high temperatures, broke out in Tartous, Latakia, and Homs provinces in Syria on Friday, as well as neighbouring Lebanon as well.
As many as 25,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, the United Nations said, while three people have been reported dead.
The fires have destroyed more than 9,000 hectares of farmland and forest in the three affected provinces. The affected area includes many Assad regime strongholds.
In addition to the three people killed, at least 70 people were admitted to hospital, according to the UN humanitarian affairs office.
Assad visited the villages of Blouran, Kafr Dabil and Basut in Latakia province, all of which were affected by fires. He pledged support for residents of affected areas, especially farmers who have lost their crops.
"This is a national catastrophe... humanitarian, economic and environmental. The state will bear the largest burden in offering this support," the Syrian dictator said.
The regime has arrested 15 people suspected of involvement the fires.
The regime's commander in Tartous province, Musa Al-Jasem, told the Al-Watan newspaper that one suspect was still being sought by officers.
Al-Jasem said that the suspects were currently being interrogated and that four were arrested at the locations of the fires. He added that they were not from the local area.
Agriculture Minister Hassan Qatana said that specialist teams had been formed to assess the damage caused by the fires.
Regime forces have killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions more since the Syrian conflict began in 2011 after the brutal suppression of peaceful protests.
One slogan used by regime supporters and forces was "Assad or we burn the country", while hundreds of towns, villages, and cities across Syria have been destroyed or emptied of their inhabitants.