DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria executed 24 people Thursday after charging them with igniting wildfires last year that left three people dead and burnt thousands of hectares (acres) of forests, the Justice Ministry said.
Executions are common in war-torn Syria, but the number of those put to death Thursday is larger than usual.
Syria’s decade-old conflict left hundreds of thousands dead and displaced half the country’s population, including five million refugees outside the country.
The Justice Ministry called the 24 who were executed, “criminals who carried out terrorist attacks that led to deaths and damage to infrastructure and public property.” It said 11 others were sentenced to life in prison in the same case.
It said nine others, including five juveniles, received prison sentences. The prison sentences for the juveniles ranged between 10 to 12 years, the Justice Ministry said.
The ministry said in late 2020, authorities detained dozens of people who confessed that they began planning to ignite fires starting in August last year. They started fires in September that affected 280 towns and villages and damaged 370 homes, the ministry added.
It said a total of 24,000 hectares (59,300 acres) of forests and plantation were burnt in the fires.
Wildfires broke out in several Middle Eastern countries in October 2020 amid a heat wave that was unusual for that time of the year, leaving Syria particularly hard-hit. Three people were killed in the blazes, which also burned wide areas of forests, mostly in Latakia and the central province of Homs.
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.