Fires spread through parts of Lebanon, Syria

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A massive blaze rips through the Shouf mountain range. (Twitter: @michaeltabbal)
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Above, a picture of the huge forest fire posted on Twitter by the Lebanese civil defense.
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A fire engine drives past the burnt remains of a van on the side of a road lined with scorched trees. (Supplied)
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Residential areas have been evacuated in some places as the flame and smoke makes them too dangerous for people to stay. (Supplied)
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In some areas the flames are lapping up the sides of mountains. (Supplied)
Updated 15 October 2019

Fires spread through parts of Lebanon, Syria

  • Mosques, churches and some hotels near the burning areas open their doors to people seeking protection
  • Over 200 Civil Defense vehicles were deployed

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Civil Defense Directorate said that 104 fires have erupted in Lebanon since Monday night. Civil Defense Director General Gen. Raymond Khattar said “Lebanon has not seen anything similar for dozens of years, with fires reaching houses and institutions and burning forests home to natural biodiversity.”

The Syrian coastal regions endured similar fires. The disaster was caused by dry weather, high temperatures and strong winds.

On Monday night, fires ripped through the Shouf mountains and northern Metn in Mount Lebanon, reaching the forests of Zgharta in the north. Firefighters from the Civil Defense desperately tried to put out flames, but people woke at 3 a.m. only to see them revived and spreading from one region to another due to strong winds. Consequently, civilians had to intervene to extinguish the fires themselves, as government forces were not able to reach all burning areas.

Khattar said: “Over 200 Civil Defense vehicles were deployed. The massive fires led to the explosion of 20 land mines, laid during the civil war in areas declared off-limits.”

Lebanon requested urgent assistance from the Cypriots, who sent two aircraft. Following a meeting of the Disaster Response Committee, Interior Minister Raya Al-Hassan said she signed a “request for assistance from neighboring countries, and Greece responded to our request and will be sending aircraft. Jordan also expressed its readiness to send assistance.”

Following the meeting, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said: “There is a disaster. We are working very hard and the relief commission will take care of all the damaged properties. The most important thing now is that there are no injuries.”

Khattar said the “there are five minor injuries among Civil Defense volunteers, due to the fires and land mine explosions,” while according to the National News Agency, “32-year-old citizen Saleem Abu Moujahed died of a heart attack after helping to extinguish fires in Btater, Chouf. Abu Moujahed was previously operated for a stent implant in his heart.”

The Lebanese Red Cross announced that “between Monday night and Tuesday morning, Red Cross teams gave first aid in field hospitals to 72 people. Some were hospitalized while others were suffering from respiratory distress and minor burns.”


Mechref, a special residential area, seemed to be the most affected area. A resident said: “I bought a water tank with my own money to extinguish the fires near my house. Windows shattered all over the area due to the fires, and we made sure to help people, and even pets, evacuate their homes.”  

From Mechref, fires spread toward Damour, Dibbiyeh, Kfarhim and Kfar Matta. The flames razed several kilometers of forest areas, and smoke covered the whole region and the outskirts of Beirut.  

Churches, mosques and some hotels near the burning areas opened their doors to people seeking protection.

Palestnian Civil Defense forces in the Burj Al-Barajneh camp in Beirut’s southern outskirts and Ain El-Helweh camp in south Lebanon also helped put out the wildfires. The UN Interim Force in Lebanon also deployed vehicles to put out the fires.

A Lebanese citizen from Mechref said he and his neighbors “had to use water from the pool in their garden to put out the fires,” adding “the inability of the state frightens me.”      

Another Lebanese citizen, whose house was damaged due to the fires, said: “I do not want to see officials rushing to the region to express their regret. People can no longer accept their neglect and apathy.” 


Current and former state officials exchanged accusations regarding three helicopters — specialized in fighting fires — that were purchased with civilian contributions in 2009, but had ceased functioning years ago as the state did not allocate funds to maintain them.

Former Minister Fadi Abboud, head of the Permanent Green Association that purchased the three helicopters, asked why there was “no recourse to the Americans to provide maintenance supplies and adequate training for pilots, instead of asking Cyprus and other states for assistance.” 

He added: “This is a grave negligence, I lost two years of my life to purchase the helicopters.”    

In Syria, teams from the Directorate of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, in cooperation with the Latakia Fire Brigade and the Civil Defense and with the support of firefighting brigades from Hama and Tartus, worked on putting out fires that erupted in Reef Latkia and spread at dawn. 

Above, a picture of the huge forest fire posted on Twitter by the Lebanese civil defense.

The Syrian News Agency reported that “teams were able to distinguish 80 percent of the fires.”  

The head of the directorare, Munzer Kherbek, said: “New fire lines were opened to reduce damages and protect properties. In 24 hours, firefighters were able to put out 17 fires that erupted simultaneously in Jableh and Al-Qardahah, despite the inaccessible terrain and the severe east wind.”



Kherbek announced that “two members from the Civil Defense were killed and others were injured.”   

Fire brigades extinguished fires in Homs, in forest and agricultural areas in Al-Nasrah, Mishtaya, Ain Berda, Habnimra and Al-Zuqaytiniyah.

According to the Lebanese Civil Aviation Directorate’s Meteorological Department, temperatures are expected to cool down with rains on Wednesday.

Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

Updated 21 November 2019

Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

  • In the Western Sahara, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing
  • "Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” says herder

DAKHLA, Western Sahara: In the Oued Eddahab desert in Western Sahara, Habiboullah Dlimi raises dairy and racing camels just like his ancestors used to — but with a little help from modern technology.
His animals roam free in the desert and are milked as camels always have been, by hand, at dawn and dusk.
When camels “feed on wild plants and walk all day, the milk is much better,” said the 59-year-old herder, rhapsodizing about the benefits of the nutrient-rich drink, known as the “source of life” for nomads.
But Dlimi no longer lives with his flock.
He lives in town with his family. His camels are watched over by hired herders and Dlimi follows GPS coordinates across the desert in a 4X4 vehicle to reach them.
He is reticent when asked about the size of his herd. “That would bring bad luck,” he said.
He prefers to speak of the gentleness and friendliness of the animals he knows like his own children.
“Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” he said.

A camel is silhouetted against the sunset in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara, on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)

"The desert knows me"
Dlimi comes from a long line of desert dwellers from the Ouled Dlimi tribe.
As tradition dictates, he lists his ancestors going back five generations when introducing himself.
“I know the desert and the desert knows me,” he said.
Like elsewhere, the nomads of Western Sahara are settling, following a shift from rural to urban living.
“Young people prefer to stay in town,” Dlimi said, and herders now mostly come from neighboring Mauritania, whose desert north is traversed by caravans of up to a thousand camels.
Even they “often demand to work in areas covered by (mobile phone) network signal,” he added.
The population of the nearby town of Dakhla has tripled to 100,000 in 20 years, with growth driven by fishing, tourism and greenhouse farming encouraged by Morocco.
In this part of Western Sahara, development projects depend entirely on Rabat.
Morocco has controlled 80 percent of the former Spanish colony since the 1970s and wants to maintain it as an autonomous territory under its sovereignty.
The Polisario Front movement fought a war for independence from 1975 to 1991 and wants a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara choose between independence and integration with Morocco.
The United Nations has been trying to negotiate a political compromise for decades.
Like many in his tribe, Dlimi has family members on the other side of the Western Sahara Wall separating the Moroccan controlled areas from the Polisario controlled areas.
He favors loyalty to Morocco while others back independence, he said.
Tribal affiliation trumps politics, though.
“Tribes are tribes, it’s a social organization,” he said. “There are very strong links between us.”
To “preserve the past for the future,” Dlimi started a cultural association to conserve traditions from a time when there were no borders and “families followed the herds and the clouds.”

A camel herder guides his flock in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)

The irony
While Dlimi loves the desert, he does have one complaint: “The camel dairy industry is valued everywhere in the world except here.”
Camel milk is trendy with health-conscious consumers and the lean meat is excellent, Dlimi claims.
Today though, it is small livestock farming that is the main agricultural focus, in response to what non-nomadic Moroccans tend to eat.
The 266,000 square kilometers (106,400 square miles) of Western Sahara under Moroccan control hosts some 6,000 herders, 105,000 camels, and 560,000 sheep and goats, according to figures from Rabat.
In other arid countries, including Saudi Arabia, intensive farming of camels has taken off.
But, while Moroccan authorities have undertaken several studies into developing Western Sahara’s camel industry, these have not so far been acted upon.
Regardless, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing.
“Some say that Saharans are crazy because when they have money they spend it on four feet,” Dlimi jokes.
For him, 20,000 dirhams ($2,000) spent on a camel is a safe investment.
But it is also a consuming passion.
His Facebook page and WhatsApp messages are filled with talk of camel husbandry techniques, research and racing.
Racing “is a pleasure and it pays,” Dlimi said.
Since the United Arab Emirates funded construction of a camel racing track at Tantan, 900 kilometers (560 miles) to the north, racing animals have appreciated in value and can sell for up to 120,000 dirhams, according to Dlimi.
To train his racing camels, Dlimi chases the young animals across the desert in his 4X4.
The technique has made him an eight-time champion in national competitions, he said.
But camels can be stubborn, Dlimi stressed, telling of how he once sold his best champion for a “very good price,” but the animal refused to race once it had changed hands.