Middle East

Lebanon calls for help as forest fires spread

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Media captionFires spread in Lebanon's hills: "People are screaming - people are stuck in their houses"

Lebanon has asked for international help battling hundreds of forest fires that broke out on Monday and have spread abroad.

The blazes - the worst in decades - started in Lebanon's western mountains, amid a heatwave and strong winds.

Heavy smoke was seen over Beirut and the city of Sidon, and one volunteer firefighter reportedly died.

Two forestry workers have also died in the north-western region of Latakia, according to Syrian state media.

Eight more were injured in the flames, Sana news agency said.

Lebanon's Interior Minister Raya El Hassan said the government had contacted several countries for help, and tweeted images of a Cypriot plane dropping water.

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Image caption Firefighters and the armed forces are tackling the blazes
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Image caption Large swathes of land have been affected

Riot police equipped with water cannon were called to the Mount Lebanon region early on Tuesday after fire engines were overwhelmed.

It is unclear how the fires began. But Prime Minister Saad Hariri is reported to have said that if they were set intentionally, those responsible "will pay a price".

The volunteer firefighter is said to have died in the Chouf region, south-east of Beirut. The area is the site of the Al Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve, which has a large Lebanon cedar forest - the tree on the country's national flag.

Lebanon's civil defence authority has tweeted regular updates about the fight against the fires. Army and air force units are helping throughout the country.

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