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Syria executes dozens for 'deliberately' starting wildfires: Report

State news agency said at least 24 people were executed in Syria on Wednesday, where the death penalty remains legal
A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency on 10 October 2020 shows firefighters driving through the countryside of Syria's Latakia province (AFP)

The Syrian government executed dozens of people on Wednesday for deliberately starting wildfires that ravaged parts of the country last year.

A statement from Syria's justice ministry said those executed were charged with "committing terrorist acts that led to the death and damage to state infrastructure and public and private property through the use of flammable material".

Sana state media agency said at least 24 people were executed in Syria on Wednesday, where the death penalty remains legal.

Meanwhile, 11 others were sentenced to hard labour for life, four to temporary penal labour, and five minors were handed prison sentences ranging from 10 to 20 years over similar charges. 

Their identities were not disclosed, and no details were provided on where and how the executions took place. 

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Several Middle East countries, including Syria, faced severe wildfires last year due to rising temperatures and a heatwave that scorched parts of Turkey and Lebanon. 

Last October, fires ravaged Syria's north, triggered by an unusual heatwave for that time of year. 

Hundreds of hectares had burned in Syria's coastal Latakia and Tartus province and central Homs province. 

Official news agency Sana said fires burned homes in the coastal city of Banias in Tartus province and Qardahah, President Bashar al-Assad's hometown in Latakia.

Syria's justice ministry said the suspects were identified late last year in an interior ministry probe into wildfires in Latakia, Tartus and Homs.

"They confessed that they had started fires at several locations in the three provinces, and they also confessed to convening meetings to plan the fires" that occurred intermittently in September and October 2020, according to the justice ministry.

It said it documented 187 fires affecting 280 towns and villages last year.

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