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Officials say the wildfire men were convicted of arson in a show of strength for al-Assad government
Syrian authorities have executed 24 men charged with planting fire breaks which sparked wildfires across the country last year, state media has said.
The reports said firebreaks in the ancient town of Palmyra, which was recaptured from Islamic State in May, caused 21 separate wildfires across Syria.
Firebreaks are usually used to mitigate the risk of bush fires, which start after lightning strikes.
The fires torched timber and trash, felling palm trees on the banks of the Euphrates and covering the Bedouin village of Jabal Nuwaya in a flammable dust.
State news agency Sana described the men as “economic saboteurs who ignited fires and illegally sold the wood they had taken from the burned trees to Russian sappers in Palmyra”.
According to footage in the reports, the 24 men were among 114 prisoners accused of “rebellion”, terrorism, mutiny and “destroying the foundations of the Syrian state”.
“The central Syrian command confirms the death of 24 individuals condemned to death,” the supreme court said.
The men’s bodies were paraded on state television and shown on social media, with many appearing to have been shot execution-style in the back of the head.
Syria has carried out a string of executions of terrorism suspects in the past few years, after President Bashar al-Assad said those accused of perpetrating “non-state terrorism” were the “root causes of extremism”.
Human rights groups have described several mass hangings and killings in recent years.
“The news of mass executions is again an indication of the regime’s barbaric judicial proceedings, which set a record for systematic and prolonged executions that appear aimed at terrorising Syrians,” said Saeed al-Rifai, the deputy head of the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights.
Beit-Lubana, in the western Qalamoun mountains near the border with Lebanon, held the key Golan Heights to the west until it was captured by Islamic State in 2015.
There has been no indication that beit-Lubana has been a target for a US-led air strike in recent months, but officials have said troops, militia and rebel fighters fighting to oust Assad from power could converge there.
Fighting has intensified in the Qalamoun region over the past month with regime aircraft dropping “poison gas-like” bombs on rebel-held areas of the town.
Rebels and Syrian activists said on Thursday that government forces may have used mustard gas against opposition-held areas, marking an escalation in a suspected chemical attack that has raised the risk of international intervention.