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

Most of the population is concentrated in the western region of the country, near the Mediterranean.

Damascus, the capital and the largest city, is located at the foot of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains along the small Barada River.

Hafez al-Assad, the leader of a radical wing of the Arab Socialist party, the Baath, seized control in 1971.

He cracked down hard on dissent and in 1982 killed thousands of members of the the Muslim Brotherhood opposition organization.

Syria had experienced a brief period of independence from 1918–1920, and was dissatisfied with French rule, which ignored the will of the people and did little for the country as a whole.

There was a brief insurrection in 19, which the French put down by bombing Damascus.

That era came to an end in 1920 with the end of World War I, when the French took control of Syria and Lebanon.

The French drew a straight-line border to separate this territory from British-ruled Transjordan.

That name still is used to refer to the entire area of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and the West Bank and has become a symbol of Arab unity. Syria borders Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Israel and Jordan to the south, and Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the west.

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

The Gharb Depression, a dry but fertile valley, lies between this range and other mountains to the east.