IS kills at least 26 truffle pickers in Syria
At least 26 people searching for valuable truffles in the Syrian desert have been killed by the Islamic State (IS) group, state media and activists say.
Civilians and pro-government fighters were among the victims of the attack on Sunday in Hama province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported.
IS militants have repeatedly preyed on those searching for the fungus, with more than 150 people killed this year. A kilogramme (2.2lb) can fetch more than the country’s average monthly wage.
Syria’s state-run Sana news agency cited a police source as saying that IS militants attacked a group of civilians in the village of Duwaizin, in the eastern countryside of Hama, killing 26 of them.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based monitoring group that relies on a wide network of sources on the ground in Syria, put the death toll at 36 and said the victims included at least 17 fighters from the pro-government National Defence Forces.
Searching for the truffles is extremely dangerous as hunters contend with landmines and IS fighters maintain hideouts in the desert where they grow.
But many who face poverty and unemployment exacerbated by Syria’s war risk the dangers as the fungus can sell for up to US$25 (£20) per kg depending on size and grade in a country where the average monthly wage is around $18 (£14).
The window of time in which to make money is small as the truffle season only lasts from February to April. There have been several attacks on foragers in recent months, with women and children among the victims.
Last month, 15 truffle hunters were killed in central Syria, according to the SOHR. Dozens of others were also reported to have gone missing.
Days earlier, 16 people, mostly civilians, were killed in a similar attack targeting foragers in the same area.
In 2014, IS militants seized large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, imposing its brutal rule on almost eight million people. —BBC