Family members from three generations were huddled on the back of a pickup truck for what started as a joyful ride through the Syrian countryside for Abdulaziz al-Oqab and his relatives.
They were planning to sample the long-forgotten peacetime pleasure of a simple family picnic when a landmine brought a bloody end to their outing, and to the lives of 21 family members.
“It was a day of joy that turned into tragedy,” Oqab, 41, told AFP. “I’ve come to hate going out since then. People live in fear of this faceless killer that could be anywhere.”
But remnants of explosives laid by all sides in the 11-year-old conflict are now claiming more lives in Syria than anywhere else in the world, says the United Nations.
“An entire family was destroyed,” Oqab said about the fateful day more than three years ago, sitting outside his traditional beehive-style mud hut in his village in Hama province.
“This was our destiny.”
The UN Mine Action Service said 15,000 people have been killed or injured by explosive devices in Syria since 2015.
Syria’s war is estimated to have killed almost 500,000 people and displaced millions since it began in 2011.
“Mines have a long lifespan,” said a Syrian army officer, who asked not to be named over security concerns.
Syrian authorities detonate ammunition and explosive remnants of war on a near-daily basis, especially in areas formerly held by rebel forces near the capital.
The White Helmets rescue group has even set up training and workshops to raise awareness on the dangers landmines pose.
“We deal with unexploded ordnance according to one principle,” he told AFP.
– ‘Tore us apart’ –
Last year, UNMAS carried out its first mine-clearing operation in government-held parts of Daraya, an area on the outskirts of Damascus that was once a rebel bastion and saw fierce fighting.
Explosive remnants were found in about 200 out of 6,000 surveyed buildings, the UN said.
As a result, civilians have paid the price.
Only three of them returned alive.
Her brother was avoiding a device he had spotted when a second one went off and blew up their vehicle.
“The mine tore us apart,” Boushi said.