(Damascus) This year’s rain season in Syria was exceptionally good nation-wide. Farmers were particularly optimistic that a good harvest would alleviate some of their eight-year long hardships, caused by the devastating conflict that broke out in March 2011. 

That optimism was short lived. Syrian farmers now seem to be doomed, with dense smoke billowing from their charred fields of wheat and barley. The fields were deliberately set on fire, suffocating their humble dream. Crop arsons spread fast and wide, from Syria’s fertile northeastern provinces bordering Turkey and Iraq, all the way to the southern governorates of Suweida, and Dara’s crop fields near the Jordanian borders.

Initially, blame was put on the searing heat and high temperatures associated with dry winds that swept the country. But soon, the fires increased in numbers and scope. The gruesome reality struck home, right to the very heart of Syrian communities – particularly in farmers who depend on a good harvest season in order to sustain a living. Now, the crop fires have been proven to be deliberate arson attacks, with traces of inflammable materials and bags full of them discovered before going ablaze. The material was deliberately spread across a number of ready-to-harvest fields in southern Syria. Videos of arsonists dancing after setting crop fields alight in the northeastern plains of Syria, targeting a large chunk of Syria’s poorest population, has been verified.

The biggest question quickly became: Who is behind these barbaric arson attacks and why?

ISIS terrorists were quick to claim responsibility for setting fire to tens of thousands of acres of crops and farmland in Syria and Iraq out of revenge.

It all started last month, when tens of thousands of acres of crops across Syria and Iraq were set ablaze. This left many already war-beleaguered farmers in despair, during what was anticipated to be a very promising harvest season. ISIS claimed responsibility for the first of the fires in their weekly newsletter, urging followers to start more. Kurdish militants in northeastern Syria and others in the southern provinces were quick to follow suit. Images circulated of burning fields and desperate farmers watching their crops burn in front of their very eyes.

Arsonists used various methods in setting the wheat fields and other farmland on fire by spraying inflammable material across the dry crop field, hiding strong magnifying glasses on poles inside the field that use the scorching sun heat to start fires, or even driving through the farmland with SUVs and pickup trucks and torching the dry farmland.

Many people and farmers soon realised that the volume of wildfires happening during May was significantly above the naturally occurring wildfires that often strike around this time of the year. The fires intensified in nature, scope and damage inflicted. This occurred almost simultaneously with similar incidents in Iraq.

ISIS have claimed responsibility for almost 90% of the 130 mega fires that have been recorded in Iraq alone.  But some observers note that, “given the ISIS tendency to claim even the local car crash down the street, we need to take all of that with a considerable pinch of salt”. Others, however, point out the fact that ISIS extremists have already demonstrated and implemented a range of inhuman practices, along with their beheading and innovative torture techniques and atrocities, such as poisoning wells and adopting scorched earth tactics in rural areas in Syria and Iraq Why not set crops and farmland on fire?

Tens of thousands of crop acres, predominantly wheat, have been lost to the deliberate wild fires. The devastation is aggravated by the fact that this year’s rain season, with record precipitations in many parts of Syria, came after years of drought and poor harvests, let alone eight years of war that has crippled many sectors of the economy, including agriculture.  Prices of vegetables and fruit have rocketed in recent years, and farmers were relying on the good harvests to make up some of the losses they have suffered in previous seasons.

To make an already desperate situation even worse and much more dangerous, terrorists and arsonists seem to have planted explosive charges and mines along the routes to some of the fields, with the aim of targeting first responders trying to put out the raging fires.  

Kurdish PYD militants have threatened Arab farmers who refuse to sell their crops in Syria’s richest and strategic northeastern provinces. Many clashes were recorded between local Arab farmers and Kurdish separatists in al Hassakah and other northeastern areas over this issue, which followed a series of repressive measures taken by Kurds against the Arabs, particularly Christians, in areas under Kurdish control.

Targeting the farming communities in rural areas might frighten some, but such unprecedented deliberate arson attacks against the very essence of farmers’ means of survival is bound to unite the rural communities against ISIS or any other terrorist organisation. Popular uprisings in Kurdish-controlled areas are on the rise, and so are attacks against PYD military outposts east of the Euphrates river. 

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