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Islamic State kills 15 truffle hunters in Syria, as clashes resume in Aleppo

The two incidents demonstrated the continued dangers of the Syrian civil war, even as the conflict has wound down somewhat.
A merchant presents desert truffles at a stall in a market in the city of Hama in west-central Syria on March 6, 2023.

The Islamic State (IS) killed several civilians in central Syria on Thursday, while on the same day deadly clashes occurred between government and rebel forces in the north. 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that IS killed 15 people in the desert outside of Hama in central Syria via a brutal knife attack. The victims were hunting for truffles. Seven of those killed were civilians, while eight were members of the pro-government al-Qaterji militia. Another 40 people are unaccounted for, the UK-based war monitor reported on Friday. 

Syrians forage for truffles because they bring in high prices. The Syrian economy has been battered by more than 10 years of war, as well as by US sanctions. 

In an unrelated incident, the Syrian military was attacked on Thursday night by rebel fighters in the western countryside outside of Aleppo in northern Syria. The military claimed it killed 11 of the perpetrators and that there were foreigners among those killed, Syria’s state-run SANA news outlet reported on Friday. 

SANA said the attacking forces were members of Jabhat al-Nusra. This was al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, but the organization said it severed ties with al-Qaeda in 2016 and has since rebranded itself as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). 

The Syrian Observatory reported on Friday that the clashes occurred between the Syrian military and HTS. Five Syrian military soldiers and five HTS fighters were killed, according to the observatory. 

Why it matters: The Syrian civil war has died down somewhat in recent years. Russia intervened on behalf of the President Bashar al-Assad government in 2015, and government forces, also supported by Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, have recaptured most of the country since then. HTS and Turkish-backed rebel groups still control much of northern Syria. 

Yet the war still poses a danger to Syrians. Idlib province in the northwest has been particularly ravaged by the Syrian civil war. Recently, Idlib has been suffering from a water crisis, Ahmad Fallaha reported for Al-Monitor from Syria in December. Syrians are also sometimes killed by unexploded mines, according to local media. 

IS also killed three people and stole hundreds of sheep in central Syria earlier this month. In February, SANA reported that IS killed 53 people who were collecting truffles. 

Know more: The US military struck Iran-backed militia targets in Syria overnight Thursday after a drone strike killed a US contractor in Syria. 

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