Syria attacks blamed on IS kill at least 43

Syria attacks blamed on IS kill at least 43
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A total of 43 people were killed in separate Islamic State group attacks in Syria on Sunday.
Hundreds of people continue to be killed in hit-and-run attacks by IS in Syria [Getty]

Suspected Islamic State (IS) group fighters killed a total of 43 truffle hunters and shepherds in Syria on Sunday, a monitor said, in the latest attacks by the extremists in the war-ravaged country.

Rami Abdel Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) told AFP the militant group "killed 36 people on Sunday while they were collecting truffles in the desert east of (the central city) Hama".

He said 17 of the dead were pro-regime fighters.

The official Syrian news agency SANA reported the deaths of at least 26 people.

The Observatory, which has a wide network of sources on the ground in Syria, said militants riding motorbikes also attacked a group of shepherds in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, killing five and seizing their livestock.

Two other shepherds were kidnapped, the war monitor said.

SANA also reported five dead in the attack, and said the militants opened fire on the animals, killing 250 sheep.

SOHR later rose the total death toll to 43.

Also in Deir Ezzor, the decomposed bodies of two civilians thought to have been truffle hunters killed days earlier by militants were recovered, the Observatory said.

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Since February, more than 240 people have been killed in IS 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 IS last month.

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

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

However, the authorities frequently warn against the high-risk practice of gathering them.

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

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Syrian truffles are less fragrant than truffles found in France and Italy, and can only be found during the rainy season.

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.

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

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

Syria's war has claimed the lives of more than half a million people and displaced millions since it erupted in March 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-regime 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.