Syria is located in Southwestern Asia, north of the Arabian Peninsula in the Middle East, at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered by Turkey on the north, Lebanon and Israel on the west, Iraq on the east, and Jordan on the south. It consists of mountain ranges in the west and farther inland a steppe area. In the east is the Syrian Desert and in the south is the Jabal al-Druze Range. The former is bisected by the Euphrates valley. A dam built in 1973 on the Euphrates created a reservoir named Lake Assad, the largest lake in Syria. The highest point in Syria is Mount Hermon (2,814 m; 9,232 ft) on the Lebanese border. Between the humid Mediterranean coast and the arid desert regions lies a semiarid steppe zone extending across three-quarters of the country, which receives hot, dry winds blowing across the desert. Syria is extensively run short, with 28 percent of the land arable, 4 percent dedicated to permanent crops, 46 percent utilized as meadows and pastures, and only 3 percent forest and woodland.
Syria is divided into fourteen governorates, or muhafazat (singular: muhafazah). The governorates are divided into a total of sixty districts, or manatiq (sing. mintaqah), which are further divided into sub-districts, or nawahi (sing. nahiya). The capital Damascus is the largest city in Syria, and the metropolitan area is a governorate on its own. Aleppo (population 1,671,673) in northern Syria is the second largest city. Latakia along with Tartus are Syria's main ports on the Mediterranean sea.
The area includes about 185,180 square kilometers of deserts, plains, and mountains. It is divided into a coastal zone—with a narrow, double mountain belt enclosing a depression in the west—and a much larger eastern plateau. The climate is predominantly dry; about three-fifths of the country has less than 250 millimeters (9.84 in) of rain a year. Fertile land is the nation's most important natural resource, and efforts have been made, and in the 1980s were continuing, to increase the amount of arable land through irrigation projects.
Along the Mediterranean, a narrow coastal plain stretches south from the Turkish border to Lebanon. The flatness of this littoral, covered with sand dunes, is broken only by lateral promontories running down from the mountains to the sea. Syria claims a territorial limit of 35 nautical miles (64.8 km; 40.3 mi) off its Mediterranean coastline.
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