Syria landmine blast kills 16 truffle hunters: monitor

Syria landmine blast kills 16 truffle hunters: monitor
Scores of Syrians are killed annually in the vast Syrian desert which is littered with landmines, as they search for much-sought after truffles.
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Truffle hunters risk death by searching for the sought-after product in Syria's desert [Getty/file photo]

At least 16 people searching for truffles in the north Syria desert were killed Saturday after their vehicle hit a landmine, a war monitor said.

Between February and April each year, hundreds of impoverished Syrians risk their lives searching for truffles in the vast Syrian desert, or Badia - a known hideout for jihadists that is also littered with mines.

"Sixteen civilians including at least nine women were killed and others seriously wounded" when their small truck hit a mine in an area where Islamic State (IS) group extremists are present in Raqqa province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based Observatory said the truck was carrying more than 20 civilians who were searching for desert truffles, which fetch high prices in a country battered by 13 years of war and a crushing economic crisis, after Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad began a ruthless crackdown on peaceful protesters amid the onset of the Arab Spring in 2011.

Recent weeks have seen repeated deadly mine blasts as Syrians hunt for truffles.

Authorities have frequently warned against the high-risk practice.

Earlier this month, gunmen thought to be linked to IS killed 18 people, mostly civilians, in a desert attack on a group of truffle hunters, the Observatory had reported.

Last month, state media said a landmine left by IS killed 14 people foraging for truffles in the Raqqa desert.

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

They have ambushed civilians as well as Kurdish-led forces, Syrian government troops and pro-Iran fighters, while also mounting attacks in neighbouring Iraq.