Syria landmine blast kills 19 truffle hunters: Monitor

At least 19 people searching for truffles in the north Syria desert were killed Saturday after their vehicle hit a landmine, a war monitor said, raising an earlier toll of 16.

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 extremists 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 ISIS extremists are present in Raqa 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.

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 ISIS 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 ISIS killed 14 people foraging for truffles in the Raqa desert.

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

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