AL-HASAKAH, SYRIA - At least 32 civilians were killed Tuesday in a surprise Islamic State attack outside a refugee camp on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq, according to victims and Syrian Kurdish officials.
The predawn assault happened in the Rajm al-Salibeh region, a front-line zone between IS and U.S.-backed forces where Syrian and Iraqi refugees fleeing IS territory gather before being allowed to enter the Kurdish-controlled region in northern Syria.
Dozens of armed IS militants riding on motorcycles and in cars approached 300 refugee families from Iraq's Mosul and Syria's Deir Ezzor who were waiting overnight in a makeshift, temporary stopover on their way to nearby al-Houl refugee camp.
"At least five suicide attackers blew themselves up," said Rami Abdel, a spokesman for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors conflicts in Syria.
Fouad Omar, a Kurdish official in Qamishili, told VOA that IS fighters also stabbed refugees and opened gunfire.
"We saw some cars coming to us from a distance and we thought they were people fleeing from IS. But as soon as we went out of the tents, it became clear they were IS fighters," a female survivor from Deir Ezzor told VOA.
While being treated at a hospital in Hasakah for her wounds, the woman said refugees were deliberately targeted by IS because they were seeking safety among U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
"They told us, 'You are infidels. You are with infidels,'" she said. "They started going to each tent and blindly open fire at people. It became end of the world after half of an hour. They killed everyone and left."
The attack sparked heavy confrontation between IS and the U.S-backed SDF, whose fighters are currently gearing up for an assault on the de facto IS capital of Raqqa.
"Our colleagues stood against the IS attack and were able to kill 14 fighters," said Nisreen Abdullah, spokesperson of the Women Protection Units, a Kurdish female brigade.
Abdullah said IS likely took advantage of the recent rising tensions between the U.S.-backed forces and Turkey on the border to unleash the attacks.
"The number of our guards on the Iraqi-Syrian border is smaller now as we have dispatched more troops to guard our border with Turkey after the recent Turkish attacks," she said.
Kurdish officials say refugees have been streaming into camps for months without incident.
"We welcomed more than 500,000 refugees from this area," said Kurdish official Omar.
Separately Tuesday near Damascus, the International Committee of the Red Cross said an aid convoy of food and medical supplies reached the besieged town of Douma for the first time since October.
An ICRC tweet late Tuesday said the convoy had entered the town northeast of Damascus under the cover of darkness, with 51 trucks carrying emergency supplies for 35,000 people.
Rebel-held Douma has been under government siege for nearly four years.
VOA's Rikar Hussein and Ahed Al Hendi contributed to this report from Washington.