(Beirut) At least 41 people, including 24 civilians, were killed in Syria on Sunday in two attacks attributed to the Islamic State (IS) group against sand truffle pickers and shepherds.

The jihadist group “killed 36 people on Sunday while picking desert truffles in eastern Hama (center),” the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH) told AFP. , Rami Abdel Rahmane, specifying that 17 of them were pro-regime fighters.

The official Sana agency reported on its side 26 dead.

And in the desert in the east of the country, men suspected of belonging to the ultra-radical organization and perched on motorcycles opened fire and killed five shepherds in the province of Deir Ezzor, before seizing the cattle, added the NGO which has an extensive network of sources in Syria.

The Sana agency also provided a death toll of 5, stating that the jihadists opened fire on the cattle, killing 250 sheep.

Two other shepherds were kidnapped, according to the OSDH.

In the same province, the decomposed bodies of two civilians were found. According to the OSDH, they had been killed a few days earlier by members of IS, while they were also picking up sand truffles.

More than 240 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since early February picking up sand truffles sold for exorbitant prices, during attacks by IS fighters in the desert or in mine explosions, according to a count of the OSDH.

The jihadist group, which controlled large territories from 2014 in Syria, was territorially defeated in March 2019 in this country by an international anti-jihadist coalition led by the United States and the Kurds.

Since the beginning of the year, IS cells scattered in the desert have, however, increased their deadly attacks there.

According to the OSDH, IS jihadists often attack residents who go looking for truffles in remote areas.

In a country with an economy devastated by more than a decade of war and heavy international sanctions, and where the average monthly salary is around $18, truffle harvesting can be a very rewarding livelihood.

A kilo of truffles costs from five to 25 dollars, depending on the size and quality.

Less fragrant than French or Italian truffles, sand truffles can only be picked during the rainy season, between February and April.

Despite frequent warnings from the authorities, this high-risk activity continues.

In mid-February, 68 people, including 61 civilians and seven soldiers, were killed in the eastern province of Homs (center) in an attack attributed to IS.

It was the deadliest attack by the jihadist organization in more than a year and the assault on Ghwayran prison in an area held by Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria . The attack left 373 dead, including 268 jihadists, after several days of intense fighting, according to the OSDH.

And on Sunday, the Kurdish Autonomous Administration announced in a statement that it had released dozens of prisoners held in Ghwayran in the city of Hassaké and in Alaya on the outskirts of the city of Qamichli (northeast), because of their “good behavior and their ability to integrate into society”.

They were accused of “terrorism” by the Kurdish administration for “helping IS members or their relatives”.

The Syrian conflict, sparked by the 2011 crackdown on pro-democracy protests, has left half a million dead, displaced millions and fragmented the country.