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19 truffle hunters in Syria killed by landmine blast

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.

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.

Nineteen civilians, including 12 women, were killed and several others were wounded when their small truck hit a mine in an area where Islamic State group (IS) 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.

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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 reported.

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

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.

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

Meanwhile, Israeli airstrikes hit several sites in southern Syria early Sunday wounding a soldier, Syrian state media reported.

State news agency SANA, citing an unnamed military official, said air defences shot down some of the missiles, which came from the direction of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights at around 12.42am local time.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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