Syria was an overwhelmingly agricultural country until the early 1960s, when planned large-scale industrialization began. The state has played a major role in the country's economy, but government control eased after 2000. Since the outbreak of civil war in 2011, the economy has been severely disrupted, with economic output shrinking by more than half, exports dropping to a sixth of what they were, and the unemployment rate reaching 40%.

Prior to the conflict, some 17% of the people earned their living by farming; land cultivation had increased more than 50% from 1970, largely because of government incentives and wider use of irrigation. The best farmland is located along the coast and in the Jabal al-Nusayriyah, around Aleppo, in the region between Hama and Homs, in the Damascus area, and in the land between the Euphrates and Khabur rivers, which is known as Al Jazira [Arab.,=the island]. The principal crops include wheat, barley, cotton, lentils, chickpeas, olives, and sugar beets. Poultry, cattle, and sheep are raised, and dairy products are important.

Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs are the chief industrial centers, but all have been affected by the war, especially Aleppo and Homs. The main industries include petroleum refining; food, beverage, and tobacco processing; and the manufacture of textiles, chemicals, and precision-engineered products. Handicrafts such as articles of silk, leather, and glass are widely produced. The principal minerals extracted are petroleum, found mainly at Qarah Shuk (Karachuk) in the extreme northeast; natural gas, found mainly in the Al Jazira region; phosphates; limestone; and salt. Petroleum pipelines from Iraq and Jordan cross Syria, and there is also a pipeline from Qarah Shuk to the Mediterranean coast.

Since 1974 oil has been Syria's most important source of revenue, although production declined in the early 21st cent. even before the civil war. In 2006, petroleum and agriculture together accounted for one half of the country's GDP. Latakia and Tartus are the main seaports.

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