Agricultural Crops Weaponized by Syria’s Warring Parties

Fire devours agricultural lands in Idlib as a result of shelling by Assad forces - May 2019 (Syrian Civil Defense)

Fire devours agricultural lands in Idlib as a result of shelling by Assad forces - May 2019 (Syrian Civil Defense)


Agricultural lands across Syria are facing fires that threaten their seasons and endanger their local economy, as arson becomes a weapon in the Syrian war.

The occurrence of fires in cultivated lands began a few weeks ago, as temperatures began to increase. Reports on causes of the fires vary, as some leveled accusations of arson against several parties to the conflict, with speculation as to the motives behind them.

The losses caused by dozens of fires in Syria, in three major zones of control, show the threat of this phenomenon, as the issue is exacerbating with the hot summer heat, and especially targeting strategic crops such as wheat and barley.

The Regime Fights the Opposition with Fires

With the escalation of violence targeting opposition areas in northern Syria, and the military campaign led by the regime and its allies in the rural areas of Hama and Idlib beginning late April, fires in agricultural areas have increased significantly.

The Syrian Civil Defense accused both the regime and Russia of igniting the fires by shelling farmlands with internationally prohibited munitions loaded with incendiary materials, with the aim of burning the largest possible areas of those lands.

“The regime launched a campaign targeting access to basic food people use for sustenance, hence agricultural land, as we in Syria go through the harvest season,” said Raed al-Saleh, director of the Civil Defense speaking to Enab Baladi.

“334 agricultural fields were directly targeted with incendiary materials aimed at destroy them completely. This is proof that this is not just a displacement campaign, but a policy of starvation previously used in rural Damascus, Darayya, Zabadani, Daraa and Homs.”

No accurate statistics exist as to losses due to the fires throughout northern Syria. Such figures remain difficult to obtain in the face of continuous escalation, and persistent arson in agricultural lands on a daily basis.

Eastern Euphrates Crops a Target of “IS”

In the region east of the Euphrates, known as the “food basket” of Syria, the so-called Autonomous Administration that controls the region estimated fires at more than 25,000 hectares of wheat and barley crops in recent weeks.

The statistics issued on May 30 by the Autonomous Administration described these fires as “fabricated at the hands of saboteurs, aimed at striking the economy of the region, and undermining people’s livelihoods and property after their failure to destabilize the region,” asking locals and farmers to support the competent authorities in the area to guard the lands and crops to mitigate the recurrence of fires.

In the wake of these accusations, the “Islamic State” organization through its affiliated newspaper al-Nabaa in its 183 issue May 24, took responsibility for the fires that affected agricultural lands in Syria and Iraq. IS justified the acts of arson as targeting those whom it described as “apostates”.

The newspaper also published another report monitored by Enab Baladi on Friday, May 31, in which IS enumerated the agricultural lands it has burned in the areas of Raqqa, al-Hasakah and the Aleppo countryside. It estimated the areas of fires at tens of dunams, which it claimed targeted lands belonging to officials and fighters affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The organization promised that the harvest season east of Syria is still long, directing a message to its fighters, saying: “In front of you are thousands of dunam of land cultivated with wheat and barley, and before you are their orchards and fields, and their homes and economic facilities, so pull up your sleeves and start harvesting, may Allah bless your harvest.”

Fires already razed thousands of dunams of wheat and barley in eastern Syria have, in areas controlled by SDF and Assad forces, causing heavy losses to farmers.

Many fires broke out in the governorate of al-Hasakah, which is considered the wheat reservoir of Syria, in addition to Raqqa and the eastern countryside of Aleppo.

The Regime Is Unable to Extinguish “Acts of Arson”

In areas controlled by the Syrian regime, dozens of fires were reported in the rural Damascus, and the governorates of Daraa, Suwayda, Aleppo and Hama, all of which affected agricultural lands and led to losses in the agricultural seasons.

Unlike the opposition and the Autonomous Administration in eastern and northern Syria, however, the vast majority of fires reported daily by state media are attributed to a personal error by citizens. The causes for most other fires are recorded as unknown, as happened in farms in Harasta in rural Damascus.

The last of these fires was reported in the Suwayda governorate in late May, and they destroyed more than five thousand dunams of agricultural land and dry grass, in the villages and towns of Lebbin, Jareen, Ariqa and Dama in the eastern Suwayda countryside, according to the regime’s state news agency SANA.

The agency attributed the causes of these fires to high temperatures and the spread of dry grasses, along with wind and other causes. However, this did not convince citizens with whom Enab Baladi met, as one said that, “the role of municipalities is limited to mowing the dry grass around schools and in residential areas, which has become a source of danger as snakes and poisonous scorpions emerge looking for houses and cold places to avoid high temperatures. This prompted citizens to set fire indiscriminately in those lands for the safety of their families.”

Since May, Suwayda has seen more than 250 fires, including in agricultural crops, fruit trees and wild grass which were labeled indiscriminate fires. More than 20 fires broke out in the last week of May in the governorate of Daraa, which also coincided with the harvest seasons for wheat, barley and fruit trees, according to SANA.

Official sources, such as the police and firefighters, documented more than 270 fires last May in rural Damascus, most of them in the eastern Ghouta. These sources attributed the fires to several reasons, including the explosion of mines left by the “militants.” No statistics were provided for the extensive losses that resulted from the fires, which have put the regime’s government at alert, at the level of fire brigades, according to the agency.

Fires are not confined to the capital and the southern region of Syria. On Friday, the Aleppo fire brigade said on its official Facebook page that the average fire rate in the province is 35 fires a day and sometimes reaching 50, mostly in wild grass lands. These reports come after two fires on 28 May, one near the electricity company in the Bab al-Nayrab and the other in al-Zaim paper factory in the industrial city of Sheikh Najjar, which destroyed about 300 tons of paper for manufacturing, which was also attributed to rising temperatures.

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