"Islamic State" attacks on US-backed Syrian forces and a border camp used by displaced persons have left nearly 40 people dead. Thousands of civilians fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq have used the border crossing.
At least 37 people were killed in an "Islamic State" attack on civilians and US-backed forces along Syria's northeastern border with Iraq on Tuesday.
Militants led by suicide bombers staged a multi-pronged attack on military posts manned by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Shaddadi. They then assaulted other checkpoints and a refugee camp on the border used as a temporary shelter for hundreds of Syrian and Iraqi families.
The explosions were followed by gun battles between the militants and the SDF, a multi-ethnic force of Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen and Christian militias that has put the jihadists on their back heels.
The Rajm Sleibi border crossing, located along the front lines separating the Kurdish-controlled areas of Hassakeh province and IS-held territory further south, has been used by thousands of Iraqis fleeing fighting in Mosul and Syrians fleeing from Deir Ezzor.
SDF forces process displaced civilians from Iraq and Syria at the border camp before allowing them entrance to more stable parts of Hassakeh province further north.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group that tracks the conflict through a network of activists on the ground, put the death toll at 38, including nearly two dozen civilians.
The International Rescue Committee said that several children were among the dead and wounded.
The death toll is likely to rise as a number of people are missing and others were brought for medical treatment in Hassakeh city. Hawar, a news agency close to the Kurdish semi-autonomous region in the north, put the number of dead at 37.
The Kurdish Red Crescent said 22 civilians had been killed.
The IS-affiliated Amaq news agency said 16 of its fighters staged the attacks on multiple Kurdish posts, killing and wounding dozens of Kurdish fighters. It said jihadists attacked four Kurdish posts inside Shaddadi city, while other fighters attacked a village and another group assaulted a barracks in Rajm Sleibi.
Pressing offensive on IS stronghold
The deadly attack comes as the SDF said it had retaken nearly all of the strategic Euphrates valley town of Tabqa, located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of the IS group's de facto capital, Raqqa. SDF forces began the assault on Tabqa in March after they were airlifted over IS frontlines by the United States.
The SDF's next target is recapturing the IS-controlled Tabqa dam, Syria's largest, before a much anticipated assault on Raqqa. There have been concerns that fighting could damage the dam or IS could attempt to blow it up, unleashing a flood of water downstream.
Over the past two years Kurdish forces, later folded into the US-engineered SDF, have retaken large swaths of territory in northeastern Syria from the jihadist group.
The SDF is considered the best local ground force to defeat IS.
Their offensive against IS parallels a separate one by Iraqi government forces launched in October to retake Mosul.
cw/cmk (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)