Syria, about the size of North Dakota, encompasses 185,180 sq. km.; it's located in the Middle East along the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea, between Lebanon and Turkey. The capital, Damascus, has an approximate population of 1.7 million; other major cities include: Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Idleb, al-Hasakeh, Dayr al-Zur, Latakia, and Dar'a.
Syria's climate is mostly desert, with hot, dry, sunny summers (June to August) and mild, rainy winters (December to February); along the coast it experiences cold weather with snow or sleet periodically in Damascus. The terrain is primarily semiarid and desert plateau, a narrow coastal plain, and mountains in the west. The highest point in the country is Mount Hermon at 2,814 meters. The natural hazards facing Syria include: dust and sandstorms and two volcanoes that have not erupted in centuries. Syria's natural resources include: petroleum, phosphates, chrome and manganese ores, asphalt, iron ore, rock salt, marble, gypsum, and hydropower.
The 2009 estimated population was 21 million people. The major ethnic groups are: Arabs; Kurds; Armenian, Circassians, and Turkomans. Although Arabic is the official language of Syria, other languages spoken include: Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, and Circassian. Archaeologists have demonstrated that Syria was the center of one of the most ancient civilizations on earth. Around the excavated city of Ebla in northern Syria, discovered in 1975, a great Semitic empire spread from the Red Sea north to Turkey and east to Mesopotamia from 2500 to 2400 B.C. The city of Ebla alone during that time had a population estimated at 260,000. Scholars believe the language of Ebla to be the oldest Semitic language. Today Syria is a middle-income, developing country with an economy based on agriculture, oil, industry, and tourism.
U.S. State Department Background Notes; CIA World Factbook, 3/2011; 7;2011