Location
Lebanon is a small country of only 10,452 sq km (4,036 sq mi); from north to south it extends 217 km (135 mi) and from east to west it spans 80 km (50 mi) at its widest point. The country is bounded by Syria on both the north and east and by Israel on the south. Lebanon’s landforms fall into four parallel belts that run from northeast to southwest: a narrow coastal plain along the Mediterranean shore; the massive Lebanon Mountains (often referred to locally as Mount Lebanon) that rise steeply from the plain to dominate the entire country before dropping eastward; a fertile intermontane (between-mountain) basin called the Bek?a Valley (Al Biq?’); and the ridges of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, shared with Syria. Lebanon’s highest peaks are Qurnat as Sawd?’ (3,088 m/10,131 ft) in the country’s north, and volcanic Mount Hermon (2,814 m/9,232 ft) at the southern end of the Anti-Lebanons. The country’s name comes from the old Semitic word laban, meaning “white,” which refers to the heavy snow in the mountains.

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Climate
Most of Lebanon has a Mediterranean climate, with warm, dry summers, and cool, wet winters, although the climate varies somewhat across the landform belts. The coastal plain is subtropical, with 900 mm (35 in) of annual rainfall and a mean temperature in Beirut of 27°C (80°F) in summer and 14°C (57°F) in winter. In the Lebanon Mountains, temperatures decrease and precipitation increases with elevation: Heavy winter snows linger well into summer, making the Lebanon Mountains more pleasant in the summer than the humid coast; higher altitudes receive as much as 1,275 mm (50 in) of annual precipitation. The Bek?a Valley and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains are situated in the rain shadow of the Lebanon Mountains and as a result have hot, dry summers and cold winters with occasional rain.

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Population
Lebanon has not taken a census since 1932. The 1997 estimated population was 3,111,828, but this figure, provided by the Lebanese government, does not include Palestinian refugees and foreign workers, mainly Syrian. An independent 2001 estimate placed the population at 3,627,774, yielding a population density of 347 persons per sq km (899 per sq mi). Densities are highest along the coast and on the lower western slopes of the Lebanon Mountains. Some 89 percent of the population is urban. Emigration from Lebanon to other countries, especially among Christians, has been steady since the mid-19th century, and it increased sharply during the civil war. Within the country, thousands of Shiite refugees have fled fighting in southern Lebanon and moved into shantytowns in Beirut’s southern suburbs.

Lebanon’s major cities were greatly affected by the civil war. Beirut has gradually regained most of its prewar population and remains the country’s largest city. Tripoli, the northern port, is the second largest city, followed by J?niyah, north of Beirut. J?niyah was developed as a wartime port and subsequently had a population boom. Za?lah, a once-large city overlooking the Bek?a, lost much of its population during the war. The southern towns of ?ayd? (Sidon) and ??r (ancient Tyre), which were subjected to periodic attacks by guerrillas and Israeli forces, also lost population.

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Language
About 93 percent of the population is Arab (although many Christian Arabs disclaim Arab ethnicity), 5 percent is Armenian, and the remaining 2 percent of the population belongs to Kurdish, Assyrian, or other ethnicities. Among Arabs, about 12 percent are Palestinians, the overwhelming majority of whom live in refugee camps. Palestinian refugees are considered stateless, and their future is uncertain. Before the civil war, thousands of Westerners lived and worked in Lebanon, but most of these foreigners have left the country. Arabic is the official language, but French is commonly used, especially in government and among the upper class. English is also widely used, particularly as the language of business and education. Most Armenians speak Armenian.

Lebanon has one of the most educated and technically prepared populations in the Middle East. In 2001, 95 percent of Lebanese aged 15 and older were literate. 

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