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Three truffle hunters killed, 26 kidnapped in north Syria

AFP . Beirut
11 Mar 2023 21:03:44 | Update: 11 Mar 2023 21:06:09
Three truffle hunters killed, 26 kidnapped in north Syria
In this file photo merchants present their desert truffles at a market in the city of Hama in west-central Syria on March 6, 2023 — AFP Photo

Suspected Islamic State group militants on Saturday killed three truffle hunters and kidnapped at least 26 others in northern Syria, a war monitor said, in the latest attack during this year's harvest.

"Armed men likely affiliated with IS cells targeted truffle hunters" in the desert southeast of Aleppo, "killing three by cutting their throats and kidnapping at least 26 others, including women," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The attack on the civilians happened near positions held by pro-Iran forces, said the Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a wide network of sources in Syria.

Syrian state media did not immediately report the incident.

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

Since February, 139 people -- 120 of them civilians -- have been killed by IS attacks targeting truffle hunters or mines left by the extremists, according to the Observatory.

After the jihadists lost their last scraps of territory in March 2019 following a military onslaught backed by a US-led coalition, IS remnants in Syria mostly retreated to hideouts in the desert.

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

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

Foragers risk their lives to collect the delicacies despite repeated warnings about landmines and IS fighters.