Syrian Desert

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The Syrian Desert (Arabic: بادية الشام, bādiyat ash-shām‎‎) also known as the Hamad,[1] is a combination of steppe and true desert covering 500,000 square kilometers (200,000 square miles) the Middle East, covering parts of south-eastern Syria, northeastern Jordan, northern Saudi Arabia, and western Iraq. To the south it borders and merges into the Arabian Desert.[2] The land is open, gravely desert pavement, cut with occasional wadis.[3][4]

Location and name[edit]

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 southern Arabian Peninsula.[3]

Some sources equate the Syrian Desert with the "Hamad Desert",[1] while others limit the name Hamad to the southern central plateau,[5] and a few consider the Hamad to be the whole region and the Syrian Desert just the northern part.[6]

Several parts of the Syrian Desert have been referred to separately such as the Palmyrene desert around Palmyra, and the Homs desert.[7]

The name Shamiyah has also been used for the Syrian Desert.[8]


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.[9][10]

Together with the other deserts of the Arabian Peninsular, the Hamad Desert has been described as one of the most arid deserts of the world.[11]


The Syrian Desert is the origin of the Syrian hamster.[12] 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.[3][8]


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 1st century B.C. to the 4th century A.D.

The desert was first traversed by motor vehicle in 1919.[13]

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 Operation Phantom Fury. 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.[14][15][16][17][18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Encyclopædia Britannica: A New Survey of Universal Knowledge, Volume 2. 1941. p. 173. Retrieved 2 February 2017. 
  2. ^ Harris, Nathaniel (2003). "Syrian+desert" Atlas of the world's deserts. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn. pp. 49, 51. ISBN 9781579583101. Retrieved 2 February 2017. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ Syrian Desert at the Wayback Machine (archived January 13, 2008), New International Encyclopedia, Edition 2, Published by Dodd, Mead, 1914, Arabia, page 795 and Syrian Desert, Encarta
  5. ^ "Syrian Desert". 1999. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  6. ^ The International Whitaker, Volume 2. International Whitaker. 1913. p. 62. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  7. ^ Annual Review, Volume 2. Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. 1973. p. 476. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  8. ^ a b McIntosh, Jane (2005). "Shamiyah+desert" Ancient Mesopotamia: New Perspectives. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. p. 11. ISBN 9781576079652. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  9. ^ Wagner, Wolfgang (2011). Groundwater in the Arab Middle East. New York: Springer. p. 141. ISBN 9783642193514. Retrieved 2 February 2017. 
  10. ^ "Jebel 'Aneiza, Saudi Arabia". Retrieved 2 February 2017. 
  11. ^ "Transboundary Aquifers, Challenges and New Directions" (PDF). Paris: UNESCO. December 2010. p. 4. Retrieved 2 February 2017. 
  12. ^ McPherson, Charles W. (1987). Laboratory hamsters. Orlando: Academic Press. p. 216. ISBN 9780127141657. Retrieved 2 February 2017. 
  13. ^ Grant, Christina Phelps (2003). The Syrian desert : caravans, travel and exploration. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis. p. 273. ISBN 9781136192715. 
  14. ^ "U.S. diplomat apologizes for remarks". MSNBC. 2006-10-22. Retrieved 2011-02-02. 
  15. ^ Knickmeyer, Ellen (2006-05-29). "U.S. Will Reinforce Troops in West Iraq". Retrieved 2011-02-02. 
  16. ^ "WP: U.S. to reinforce troops in west Iraq". MSNBC. 2006-05-30. Retrieved 2011-02-02. 
  17. ^ "Situation Called Dire in West Iraq". Washington Post. 2006-09-10. Retrieved 2011-02-02. 
  18. ^

Coordinates: 33°20′00″N 38°50′00″E / 33.3333°N 38.8333°E / 33.3333; 38.8333