Syrian Desert

The Syrian Desert (Arabic: بادية الشام‎, Bādiyat al-Shām), also known as the Syrian steppe, the Jordanian steppe, or the Badia,[1] is a region of desert, semi-desert and steppe covering 500,000 square kilometers (200,000 square miles) of the Middle East, including parts of south-eastern Syria, northeastern Jordan, northern Saudi Arabia, and western Iraq. It accounts for 85% of the land area of Jordan[2] and 55% of Syria.[3] To the south it borders and merges into the Arabian Desert.[4] The land is open, rocky or gravelly desert pavement, cut with occasional wadis.[5][6][7][8]

Syrian Desert
بادية الشام
Syrian Desert
Syrian Desert on a topographic map
Coordinates33°20′00″N 38°50′00″E / 33.3333°N 38.8333°ECoordinates: 33°20′00″N 38°50′00″E / 33.3333°N 38.8333°E

Location and name

The desert is bounded by the Orontes Valley and volcanic field of Harrat al-Shamah to the west, and by the Euphrates to the east. In the north, the desert gives way to the more fertile areas of grass, and the south it runs into the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula.[5]

Some sources equate the Syrian Desert with the "Hamad Desert",[9] while others limit the name Hamad to the southern central plateau,[10] and a few consider the Hamad to be the whole region and the Syrian Desert just the northern part.[11]

Several parts of the Syrian Desert have been referred to separately such as the Palmyrene desert around Palmyra, and the Homs desert.[12] The eastern section of the Syrian Desert, that within borders of Iraq, can be referred to (within Iraqi context) as the Western Desert.[13][14]

Syrian Desert (5079180729)
View of the Syrian Desert.

The name Shamiyah has also been used for the Syrian Desert.[15] The name has been translated in the past as Badiyat al-Sham (or Badiyat ash-Sham)[14][13]


The 700-900m high region in the middle of the desert is the Hamad Plateau, a rather flat, stony semi-desert consisting of limestone bedrock covered with chert gravel. What little rain arrives on the plateau flows into local salt flats. The highest peaks of the Plateau are those of the 1000m+ Khawr um Wual in Saudi Arabia, and the 960m high Jebel Aneiza, at the border tripoint between Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.[16][17]

Together with the other deserts of the Arabian Peninsula, the Hamad Desert has been described as one of the most arid deserts of the world.[18]


Some of the climax plants in the Syrian Badia are Salsola vermiculata, Stipa barbata, Artemisia herba-alba and Atriplex leucoclada.[1] This desert ecosystem is under threat from drought, over-grazing, hunting and other human activities. Some native animals no longer inhabit this area, and many plant species have died out, with the grasses that have replaced them being of lower nutritional value to livestock.[19]

The Syrian Desert is the origin of the golden hamster.[20]

Storks, herons, cranes, small waders, waterfowl, and also raptors visit the seasonal lakes. Small rodents are common, as are their predators such as snakes, scorpions and camel spiders; previously common were gazelle, wolf, jackal, fox, cat and caracal, also ostrich, cheetah, hartebeest and onager. The large mammals are now no longer to be found, thought to be due to hunting by man.[5][15]



Syria 133 - Palmyra - Theatre
Palmyra was an important trading center located in the Syrian desert

The desert was historically inhabited by Bedouin tribes, and many tribes still remain in the region, their members living mainly in towns and settlements built near oases. Some Bedouin still maintain their traditional way of life in the desert. Safaitic inscriptions, proto-Arabic texts written by literate Bedouin, are found throughout the Syrian Desert. These date approximately from the first century BC to the fourth century AD.

One of the most important ancient settlements in the Syrian desert is Palmyra; first mentioned in the second millennium BC, the city was an important trading center in Roman times, and its people were renowned merchants who took advantage of its strategic position on the silk road linking the far east to the mediterranean, by taxing passing by caravans, establishing colonies on the silk road, and trading in the rare commodities from the far east, thus bringing enormous wealth to their city. The city's people were a combination of Arameans, Amorites and Arabs.

Another important ancient settlement is the city of Dura-Europos on the Euphrates. Originally a fortress,[21] it was founded by the Seleucid Empire by the name of Dura, which means "Fortress",[22] but was called Europos by the Greeks,[22] as the combination Dura-Europos is a modern invention.[22] The city prospered, mainly for its location on the Euphrates, importantly linking Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean, thus playing a huge part in both the commercial and military connections between the two regions.[22] It was, however, raided by the Sasanian emperor Shapur I in the 250s, most of its citizens fled, and under Sasanian rule, the city was subsequently abandoned.[22]


The desert was first traversed by motor vehicle in 1919.[23] During the Iraq War, the desert served as a major supply line for the Iraqi resistance, with the Iraq portion of the desert becoming a primary stronghold of the Sunni resistance operating in the Al Anbar Governorate, particularly after the Coalition capture of Fallujah during the Second Battle of Fallujah. A series of Coalition military operations were relatively ineffective at removing the resistance presence in the Desert. As the resistance began to gain control of the surrounding areas, coalition spokesmen began to downplay the importance of the Syrian desert as a center of operations; nevertheless the Syrian Desert remains one of the primary routes for smuggling equipment due to its location near the Syrian border. By September 2006 the resistance had gained control of virtually all of the Anbar Governorate and had moved most of their forces, equipment and leaders further east to resistance-controlled cities near the Euphrates river.[24][25][26][27]

Economy and agriculture

With low rainfall and poor quality soils, today the region is principally used as rangeland for livestock. Bedouin herdsmen, many of whom are still nomadic, graze about twelve million sheep and goats here, as well as a smaller number of camels.[28]

The International Fund for Agricultural Development aims to alleviate rural poverty, and in 1995, in cooperation with the Syrian government, it started a project to rehabilitate over a million hectares of degraded land in the Syrian Badia. In some areas, when grazing was restricted, there was a spontaneous return of many of the native plants. In other areas which were more heavily degraded, grazing restrictions were supplemented by reseeding and the planting of fodder species. By the time the project ended in 2010, nearly a quarter of a million hectares had been reseeded, and nearly a hundred thousand hectares had been planted with native fodder shrubs. The result has been a great success, with some herdsmen reporting tenfold increases in the productivity of their livestock.[28]

See also


  1. ^ a b Suttie, J.M.; Reynolds, Stephen G.; Batello, Caterina (2005). Grasslands of the World. FAO. p. 453. ISBN 978-92-5-105337-9.
  2. ^ "Jordan Badia | The Hashemite Fund for Development of jordan Badia". Retrieved 2016-07-27.
  3. ^ "The rangelands of the Syrian Arab Republic". FAO. Retrieved 26 December 2015.
  4. ^ Harris, Nathaniel; Parker, Steve (2003). Atlas of the World's Deserts. Taylor & Francis. p. 49. ISBN 978-1-57958-310-1.
  5. ^ a b c Betts, Alison (1996). The Harra and the Hamad : excavations and surveys in Eastern Jordan, vol. 1. England: Collis Publication. p. 1. ISBN 9781850756149. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  6. ^ "Syrian Desert". Archived from the original on January 13, 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-13.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  7. ^ New International Encyclopedia. Dodd, Mead. 1914. p. 795.
  8. ^ Syrian Desert, Encarta
  9. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica: A New Survey of Universal Knowledge, Volume 2. 1941. p. 173. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  10. ^ "Syrian Desert". 1999. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  11. ^ The International Whitaker, Volume 2. International Whitaker. 1913. p. 62. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  12. ^ Annual Review, Volume 2. Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. 1973. p. 476. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  13. ^ a b Mudīrīyat al-Āthār al-Qadīmah al-ʻĀmmah (1964). "Sumer". 20. Directorate General of Antiquities.: 10. The western desert of Iraq forms the eastern half of the Badiyat ash-Sham (The Syrian Desert)
  14. ^ a b Studies, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International (1956). Area Handbook on Iraq. Pr. by Human Relations Area Files. p. 34. The Western Desert. The western reaches of Iraq form part of the "Badiyat al-Sham" or "al-Shamiya", the Syrian Desert.
  15. ^ a b McIntosh, Jane (2005). "Shamiyah+desert" Ancient Mesopotamia: New Perspectives. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. p. 11. ISBN 9781576079652. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  16. ^ Wagner, Wolfgang (2011). Groundwater in the Arab Middle East. New York: Springer. p. 141. ISBN 9783642193514. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  17. ^ "Jebel 'Aneiza, Saudi Arabia". Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  18. ^ "Transboundary Aquifers, Challenges and New Directions" (PDF). Paris: UNESCO. December 2010. p. 4. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  19. ^ GEF Country Portfolio Evaluation: Syria (1994–2008). GEF Evaluation Office. p. 17. ISBN 978-1-933992-24-2.
  20. ^ McPherson, Charles W. (1987). Laboratory hamsters. Orlando: Academic Press. p. 216. ISBN 9780127141657. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  21. ^ Harrison, Thomas (2009). The Great Empires of the Ancient World. p. 180. ISBN 9781136192715.
  22. ^ a b c d e Dirven, Lucinda (1999). The Palmyrenes of Dura-Europos: A Study of Religious Interaction in Roman Syria. p. 2. ISBN 9789004115897.
  23. ^ Grant, Christina Phelps (2003). The Syrian desert : caravans, travel and exploration. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis. p. 273. ISBN 9781136192715.
  24. ^ "U.S. diplomat apologizes for remarks". MSNBC. 2006-10-22. Retrieved 2011-02-02.
  25. ^ Knickmeyer, Ellen (2006-05-29). "U.S. Will Reinforce Troops in West Iraq". Retrieved 2011-02-02.
  26. ^ "WP: U.S. to reinforce troops in west Iraq". MSNBC. 2006-05-30. Retrieved 2011-02-02.
  27. ^ "Situation Called Dire in West Iraq". Washington Post. 2006-09-10. Retrieved 2011-02-02.
  28. ^ a b "The grass is greener: rehabilitating the Syrian Badia". Rural Poverty Portal. IFAD. Retrieved 26 December 2015.
Abu Dali, Homs

Abu Dali (Arabic: أبو دالي‎, also spelled Abudali) is a village in the Homs Governorate in central Syria, located east of Homs on the western fringes of the Syrian Desert. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), Abu Dali had a population of 1,300 in 2004.

Al-Hafar, Syria

Al-Hafar (Arabic: الحفر‎, also spelled al-Hafr) is a village in central Syria, administratively part of the Homs Governorate, south of Homs. It is situated in the Syrian Desert, located south of Sadad, west of Huwwarin and northeast of Qarah. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), al-Hafar had a population of 589 in the 2004 census. Its inhabitants are predominantly Syriac Orthodox Christians.


Al-Kadir (Arabic: الكدير‎, also spelled al-Kader) is a village in eastern Syria, administratively part of the Homs Governorate. It is located in the Syrian Desert with the Euphrates River to the northeast, the nearby village of al-Kawm to the south and Deir ez-Zor to the east. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), al-Kadir had a population of 694 in the 2004 census.


Al-Sa'an (Arabic: السعن‎, also spelled as-Si'in and also known as Sa'n al-Shajara) is a Syrian town located in the al-Sa'an Subdistrict in Salamiyah District, located in the Syrian Desert, 50 kilometers northeast of Salamiyah and northeast of Hama. According to the Syria Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), al-Sa'an had a population of 3,360 in the 2004 census. Its inhabitants are predominantly Ismailis.Al-Sa'an was founded in the late 19th century by Ismaili migrants from other parts of northern Syria who chose to settle the place because of worsening economic conditions in the interior parts of Syria, the low taxes that living in the Syrian Desert fringes offered, and the place's proximity to Salamiyah, the center of Ismaili life in Syria. During the Ottoman era, when it was founded, it became the remotest Ismaili village in Syria. At the time, it contained a military post manned by Ottoman troops.

Al-Sukhnah, Syria

Al-Sukhnah (Arabic: السخنة‎, also spelled al-Sukhanah) is a town in eastern Syria under the administration of the Homs Governorate, located east of Homs in the Syrian Desert. Nearby localities include Mayadin and al-Asharah to the east, al-Taybah and Raqqa to the north, Salamiyah to the west, Arak and Tadmur (Palmyra) to the southwest.

According to Syria Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), al-Sukhnah had a population of 16,173 in the 2004 census. It is the administrative center of the al-Sukhnah nahiyah ("subdistrict") which consists of six localities with a collective population of 21,880 in the 2004 census. The town's inhabitants are predominantly Sunni Muslims. Al-Sukhnah has attracted hundreds of residents from nearby villages in the 20th century and is currently a processing center for natural gas.

Douma District

Douma District (Arabic: منطقة دوما‎, translit. manṭiqat Dūmā) is a district of the Rif Dimashq Governorate in southern Syria.

The second largest district of Syria following Tadmur, it stretches from the northeastern outskirts of Metropolitan Damascus to the Jordanian border, covering large swaths of the sparsely inhabited Syrian Desert. Administrative centre is the city of Douma, located just some 10 km (6 mi) to the northeast of Damascus.

At the 2004 census, the district had a population of 433,719.

Iraq–Syria border

The Iraqi–Syrian border runs for a total length of 599 km across Upper Mesopotamia and the Syrian desert. It was first defined in the 1920-23 Paulet–Newcombe Agreement, as an amendment to what had been designated the A zone in the Sykes–Picot Agreement of 1916. In 1932, it was finalised following a League of Nations commission review.It was the border between the Syrian Republic and the Kingdom of Iraq until 1958, and since 1961 the border between the Syrian Arab Republic and the Republic of Iraq.

The border passes across Upper Mesopotamia, beginning at the Iraqi–Syrian–Turkish tripoint on the Tigris river at 37.1060°N 42.3572°E / 37.1060; 42.3572. The border more or less follows the former border between the Ottoman Mosul and Diyarbekir vilayets.

The Rabia border crossing is on the Al-Shaddadah–Mosul road.

The border crosses the Euphrates just north of the Al-Qa'im border crossing between Abu Kamal in Syria and Al Qa'im in Iraq.

From the Euphrates, the border cuts across the part of the Syrian desert (the former Zor sanjak) to the Iraqi–Syrian–Jordanian tripoint at 33.3747°N 38.7936°E / 33.3747; 38.7936. The border crossing between Al Waleed in Iraq and Al Tanf in Syria is a short distance north-east of the tripoint, and there are Palestinian refugee camps on both sides, the Al-Waleed camp and the Al Tanf camp.

In the ongoing wars in Syria and Iraq, much of the border fell under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in 2014, although its northernmost portion remains under Kurdish control, forming the border between Rojava and Iraqi Kurdistan. The Semalka border crossing is a pontoon bridge across the Tigris established by the Kurdistan Regional Government during the Syrian Civil War about 1 km downstream from the Iraqi–Syrian–Turkish tripoint and just north of Faysh Khabur in Iraq.

Jabab Hamad

Jabab Hamad (Arabic: جباب حمد‎, also spelled Jbab Hamad or Jibab Hamad) is a village in central Syria, administratively part of the Homs Governorate, east of Homs. Situated in the Syrian Desert (which is also called the Hamad Desert), nearby localities include Furqlus, al-Sayyid and Fatim al-Amuq to the west. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, Jabab Hamad had a population of 378 in the 2004 census.

List of rivers of Iraq

This is a list of rivers in Iraq.

List of rivers of Jordan

This is a list of rivers in Jordan. This list is arranged by drainage basin, with respective tributaries indented under each larger stream's name. Many of these rivers are seasonal.

List of wadis of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia does not have any permanent rivers, but does have numerous wadis which are riverbeds that are either permanently or intermittently dry.

This list is arranged by drainage basin, with respective tributaries indented under each larger stream's name.

Mahin, Syria

Mahin or Mheen (Arabic: مهين‎) is a town in central Syria, administratively part of the Homs Governorate, south of Homs. It is situated on an oasis in the Syrian Desert, between Sadad to the west and al-Qaryatayn to the east, adjacent to the ancient village of Huwwarin. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), Mahin had a population of 11,064 in the 2004 census. Its inhabitants are predominantly Sunni Muslims.In mid-late 2015, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant captured Mahin. The city was regained by the Syrian Army the 29 December 2015.

Palmyrene alphabet

Palmyrene was a historical Semitic alphabet used to write the local Palmyrene dialect of Aramaic.

It was used between 100 BCE and 300 CE in Palmyra in the Syrian desert.

The oldest surviving Palmyrene inscription dates to 44 BCE.

The last surviving inscription dates to 274 CE, two years after Palmyra was sacked by Roman Emperor Aurelian, ending the Palmyrene Empire. Use of the Palmyrene language and script declined, being replaced with Greek and Latin.

Palmyrene was derived from cursive versions of the Aramaic alphabet and shares many of its characteristics:

Twenty-two letters with only consonants represented

Written horizontally from right-to-left

Numbers written right-to-left using a non-decimal systemPalmyrene was normally written without spaces or punctuation between words and sentences (scriptio continua style).

Two forms of Palmyrene were developed: The rounded, cursive form derived from the Aramaic alphabet and later a decorative, monumental form developed from the cursive Palmyrene.

Both the cursive and monumental forms commonly used typographic ligatures.

Qasr Ibn Wardan

Qasr Ibn Wardan (Arabic: قصر ابن وردان‎) is a hamlet and 6th-century archaeological site located in the Syrian Desert, approximately 60 kilometres (37 mi) northeast from Hama and about 19 kilometres (12 mi) northeast of al-Hamraa. The hamlet is separated from the Byzantine-era ruins by a road, with the former situated to the east of the road and the ruins situated to the west. According to the Syria Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), Qasr Ibn Wardan had a population of 467 in the 2004 census.

Sabaa Biyar

Al-Sabe' Biyar, also spelled Saba'a Biar, or Sabaa Biyar (Arabic: السبع بيار‎) is a town in central Syria, administratively part of the Rif Dimashq Governorate, located northeast of Damascus. It is situated in the Syrian Desert, in the Syrian part of the Badia region, along the highway connecting Dumayr in the west to the al-Waleed border crossing with Iraq, with no other localities in its vicinity. It is the administrative center and only locality in the al-Sabe' Biyar nahiyah ("subdistrict"). According to the Syria Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), al-Sabe' Biyar had a population of 395 in the 2004 census.In early May 2017, the town was reported to have been retaken by the Syrian government forces, shortly after the ISIL militants had pulled out of the area.


Sabburah (Arabic: صبورة‎) is a town in northern Syria, administratively part of the Hama Governorate, located east of Hama and 25 kilometers northeast of Salamiyah, on the western edge of the Syrian Desert. Nearby localities include Aqarib to the south, Mabujah to the southeast and Khunayfis and al-Saan to the northeast.

According to the Syria Central Bureau of Statistics, Sabburah had a population of 7,141 in the 2004 census. It is the administrative center of the Sabburah nahiyah ("subdistrict") which consisted of 19 localities with a collective population of 21,900 in 2004. Its inhabitants are predominantly Alawites.Sabburah was founded in the 1860s by Ismaili migrants from other parts of northern Syria who chose the place because of worsening economic conditions in the interior parts of Syria, the low taxes that living in the Syrian Desert fringes offered, and the place's proximity to the Ismaili center of Salamiyah. The settlement struggled to thrive, however, due to threats from the Bedouin tribesmen who inhabited the area. Sabburah has a high-frequency station for international radio service.


Shayrat (Arabic: الشعيرات‎, also spelled Sha'irat) is a village in central Syria, administratively part of the Homs Governorate, located southeast of Homs on the western fringes of the Syrian Desert. Nearby localities include Dardaghan to the west, al-Manzul and al-Riqama to the northwest, Sadad to the south and al-Hamrat to the southwest. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), Shayrat had a population of 1,443 in the 2004 census. Shayrat had been classified as an abandoned village or khirba by English scholar Eli Smith in 1838.Shayrat is near Shayrat Air Base.

Syrian Desert campaign (December 2016–April 2017)

The Syrian Desert campaign (December 2016–April 2017) was a military campaign launched by Syrian rebel forces affiliated with the Free Syrian Army's Southern Front and their allies in the southern Syrian Desert and the eastern Qalamoun Mountains. The aim of the offensive was to expel the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant from the desert in southern Syria and to open a supply route between two rebel-held areas.

Syrian Desert campaign (May–July 2017)

The Syrian Desert campaign (May–July 2017) is a military operation of the Syrian Army that initially started along the highway from Damascus to the border with Iraq against rebel forces during the Syrian Civil War. Its first intended goal was to capture both the highway and the al-Tanf border crossing, thus securing the Damascus countryside from a potential rebel attack. Later, multiple other fronts were opened as part of the operation throughout the desert, as well as operation "Grand Dawn" against ISIL with the aim of reopening the Damascus-Palmyra highway and preparing for an offensive towards Deir ez-Zor.Since 2016, the United States and the United Kingdom operated and manned a training facility in al-Tanf (the "Al Tanf Garrison"), with their special operations troops advising a Syrian rebel group known as the Revolutionary Commando Army. The garrison was reinforced in May, and then expanded in June 2017, with more advanced U.S. offensive weapons, including the HIMARS multiple rocket launchers. On a number of occasions, U.S. forces struck advancing pro-government troops and militia in what U.S. forces dubbed ″self-defense strikes″.

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