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Two killed as wildfires rage through Lebanon, Syria

Firefighters have been tackling hundreds of fires in both countries, while blazes in Israel prompt evacuations
A man watches as wildfires burn in Lebanon (Reuters)

At least two people have been killed in forest fires burning through Syria and Lebanon, state media and officials said. 

Hundreds of hectares have burned in Syria's Latakia, Tartus and Homs provinces, while in Lebanon there have been more than 100 fires across the country, according to George Abu Musa, head of operations for the country's civil defence. 

Syria's health ministry said two people died in Latakia province on Friday as a result of the fires, and that 70 people in the area were taken to the hospital for suffering breathing difficulties.

Dozens of fires were burning, including 45 in Latakia and 33 in Tartus, Syria's Agriculture Minister Mohammed Hassan Qatana told a radio station on Friday.

The Latakia fire brigade said they were "facing the largest series of fires seen in Latakia province in years".

In Lebanon, Abu Musa said they had mobilised 80 percent of personnel in most parts of the country. 

"The situation is crazy, there are fires everywhere," he said. 

Most of the blazes had been extinguished but some were still burning in the mountainous Chouf region in the south, and in Akkar in the north, he said.

Military helicopters were assisting firefighters in "hard-to-reach" areas, he added.

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Abu Musa was unable to identify the cause of the blazes, but said wind and high temperatures were helping them spread.

On Friday, authorities reported several fires across northern and central Israel and the occupied West Bank as temperatures soared, forcing thousands to evacuate.

Dozens of fires hit Lebanon in mid-October last year, amid unusually high temperatures and strong winds. 

The government faced heavy criticism and accusations of ill-preparedness over its response to the 2019 blazes.

Days after Lebanon's 2019 fires, mass protests broke out, triggered by proposed tax increases but quickly transforming into months-long demonstrations against the ruling class, deemed by protesters as inept and corrupt.

Syria too saw blazes in Latakia, Tartus and Homs in mid-October last year, state media reported at the time. 

Meanwhile, four people were killed and several more were wounded when a fuel tank exploded in a Beirut building on Friday, the Lebanese Red Cross said.

The explosion caused a large fire to break out in the building in the Tariq al-Jadida neighbourhood, a security source said.