After suffering through years of grinding war, both Syria and Lebanon have for much of the past two years been dealing with a spate of deadly wildfires throughout countryside areas which in some cases have devastated crucial crop and wheat supplies that are badly needed amid national food shortages.
On Thursday Syria announced an unprecedented punishment for two dozen people said to have been caught starting the fires in the recent past. The country's Justice Ministry revealed that they had been tried in a capital offense case, and subsequently executed. "Syria has executed 24 people after convicting them on terrorism charges for igniting last year’s devastating wildfires, leaving three people dead and burning thousands of hectares (acres) of forests, the Justice Ministry said," ABC News reports.
The main wildfires which had burned out of control in government areas of Latakia and the central Syrian Homs region started in October 2020, and had killed at least three people.
The fires further impacted nearly 300 villages and towns, destroying many homes and businesses at a moment the region has already long been barely surviving economically.
The fires had added to the economic crisis in the war-torn country on top of runaway inflation and amid strangling US-led sanctions intent on choking Syrian commerce with the outside world, especially Europe and the West. ABC writes that:
President Bashar Assad’s hometown of Qardaha in Latakia province was hard hit by the fires, which heavily damaged a building used as storage for the state-owned tobacco company, part of which collapsed. Assad made a rare visit to the region shortly after the fire was brought under control.
Additionally eleven others were give life in prison connected to the same case. Though details of how the two dozen executions were carried out remain unknown, death hanging remains the most common form of execution handed down by courts under the Syrian state.
The Justice Ministry statement had described "criminals who carried out terrorist attacks that led to deaths and damage to state infrastructure and public and private property through the use of flammable material."
Given the offense was elevated to "terrorism" - it appears that the Damascus judiciary is linking the arsonists with anti-government fighters and activities aimed at removing Bashar al-Assad.