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One-third of the land is arable, and one-third is pasturable.

The terrain is mostly desert, and home to drought resistant plants such as myrtle, boxwood, and wild olive. Remote areas have wolves, hyenas, and foxes; the desert has lizards, eagles, and buzzards.

However, his tight-reined rule averted the civil war and political anarchy that plagued Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon.

In 1992, he won his fourth consecutive bid for election with 99.9 percent of the vote.

It has a favorable location in a fertile area close to the desert and has historically served as a refueling stop and commercial center for traders making trips through the desert.

Inland of this area is a range of limestone mountains, the Jabal al-Nusayriya.

Some ancient languages are still spoken in parts of the country, including Maalua, Aramaic, and Syriac.

As a result of colonial influence, French and English (French in particular) are understood and used in interactions with tourists and other foreigners. The coat of arms displays a hawk, which is the emblem of Muhammad, the founder of the Islamic faith.

It is 71,000 square miles (183,900 square kilometers) in area.

Beginning in 1095, Syria was a target of the Crusades, but the Arabs ultimately defeated the Christian invaders.

The Turkish Ottoman Empire took control in 1516 and ruled the area for four hundred years.

Most of the country has a desertlike climate, with hot, dry summers and milder winters.

What little rain there is falls in the winter, mainly along the coast. The population in 2000 was 16,673,282 (not including the 35,150 people living in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, of whom 18,150 are Arabs and 17,000 are Israelis). Kurds are estimated to constitute between 3 and 9 percent of the population.

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