| DEIR AL-QAMAR, Lebanon
DEIR AL-QAMAR, Lebanon Forest fires blazed in several areas of Lebanon on Tuesday, including around the ancient town of Deir al-Qamar, a world heritage site.
"Most of Deir al-Qamar is engulfed in thick, black smoke. There's not one wooded area left. Some villas are ablaze, cars are burnt, the phone and electricity lines are burnt," resident Joseph al-Itr told Reuters by telephone.
About 85 fires started on Tuesday and 118 on Monday, the head of the Lebanese Civil Defence, Brigadier General Darweesh Hobeika, told Reuters. A civil defence source estimated the fires had destroyed around 100 hectares of woodland.
"It's a 95 percent possibility that the fires were caused intentionally by people trying to obtain charcoal as a cheaper substitute for fuel," Hobeika said.
The source said 60-70 percent of the fires had been contained but some still raged in Rashayya in the eastern Bekaa Valley and Barouk in the southeastern Shouf region.
The blazes were worst in the area around Deir al-Qamar, a well-preserved Christian town in the Shouf that is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Television footage showed several burned-out cars on roads in the Shouf region and smoke billowing from thick forests.
The town's deputy governor described the fires as an environmental disaster.
Big fires were also reported in the northern region of Akkar and several in the Metn area northeast of Beirut.
Local media said some residents had been evacuated from their homes. Nine people trying to fight fires in the north had suffered from smoke inhalation, hospital sources said.
The Lebanese Committee for the Prevention of Fires urged authorities to declare a state of emergency. "Lebanon is on the brink of desertification and the woodlands no longer exceed 10 percent (of its area)," it said in the statement.
Lebanon's interior minister requested fire-fighting planes from Italy, the National News Agency reported.
(Additional reporting by Beirut bureau)