(Beirut) Fifteen people, including seven civilians, were killed and at least 40 others abducted in an attack by the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) in central Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Rights announced on Friday. rights (OSDH).

More than 150 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since early February collecting sand truffles for exorbitant prices, desert attacks by IS fighters and mine explosions , according to a count of the OSDH.

“At least 15 people, seven civilians and eight armed men loyal to the regime in Damascus, had their throats cut” by IS fighters “while they were picking truffles” in the desert of Hama province (Central ), said the NGO, which has an extensive network of sources in Syria.

The OSDH added that 40 other people had been abducted.

Syrian state media did not immediately report the attack.

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

Since 2023, IS cells scattered in the desert have however multiplied deadly attacks there.

According to the OSDH, the jihadists attack in particular residents who go to look 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, picked between February and April, costs from 5 to 25 dollars, depending on the size and quality.

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

The conflict, triggered by the repression of pro-democracy demonstrations, has left half a million dead, displaced millions of people and fragmented the country.