ISIS attack on Syria truffle hunters kills at least 26: Monitor

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Suspected ISIS fighters killed at least 26 people Sunday in Syria, a war monitor said, the latest in a spate of attacks targeting people foraging for desert truffles in the impoverished war-ravaged country.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said “civilians and at least 10 pro-regime fighters” were among “the 26 people killed in an attack by [ISIS] fighters while they were collecting truffles in the desert east of (the central city of) Hama.”

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Syria’s desert truffles fetch high prices in a country battered by 12 years of war and a crushing economic crisis.

Between February and April each year, hundreds of impoverished Syrians search for truffles in the vast Syrian desert, or Badia -- a known hideout for extremists that is also littered with landmines.

Since February, more than 200 people -- most of them civilians -- have been killed in ISIS attacks targeting truffle hunters or by landmines left by the extremists, according to the Observatory.

The victims included 15 people foraging for truffles who had their throats slit by ISIS last month.

In February, ISIS fighters on motorcycles opened fire on truffle hunters and killed at least 68 people, the war monitor said at the time.

The Syrian desert is renowned for producing some of the best quality truffles in the world.

The prized fungus can sell for up to $25 per kilo (2.2 pounds) depending on size and grade -- in a country where the average monthly wage is around $18.

Separately on Sunday, suspected ISIS extremists killed four shepherds in the eastern Syrian region of Deir Ezzor, said the Observatory that relies on a wide network of sources on the ground.

The extremists, who carried automatic rifles and rode motorbikes, also stole the sheep before fleeing, the monitor added.

In March 2019, ISIS lost its last scraps of territory in Syria following a military campaign backed by a US-led coalition, but extremist remnants continue to hide in the desert and launch deadly attacks.

They have used such hideouts to ambush civilians, Kurdish-led forces, Syrian government troops and pro-Iranian fighters, while also mounting attacks in neighboring Iraq.

Syria’s war has claimed the lives of around half a million people and displaced millions since it erupted in March 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

Remnants of explosives laid by all sides in the conflict are now claiming more lives in Syria than anywhere else in the world, says the United Nations.

Since 2015, landmines and other explosive remnants have on average killed or injured five people every day, according to UN data.

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