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Monday, October 27, 2008

Syria condemns deadly 'US raid'

Syria has condemned an alleged US raid that killed at least eight people in the country's east, close to the border with Iraq, calling it an act of "serious aggression".

Damascus was considering its response to the attack, a spokesperson for the Syrian information ministry told Al Jazeera on Monday.

"No doubt there will be a reaction [from Syria] of some kind," Reem Haddad told Al Jazeera.

The US has not officially responded to Syria's accusation, but an unnamed US military official was reported by The Associated Press as saying that the raid by US special forces targeted al-Qaeda-linked foreign fighters who were moving through Syria into Iraq.

"We are taking matters into our own hands," he was quoted as saying.

The US military in Iraq said it did not have any information about the incident.

'Terrorist groups'

The raid on Sunday targeted an area used by fighters responsible for cross-border attacks into Iraq, Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government spokesman, said on Monday.

"The attacked area was the scene of activities of terrorist groups operating from Syria against Iraq," he told the Reuters news agency.

"The latest of these groups ... killed 13 police recruits in an (Iraqi) border village. Iraq had asked Syria to hand over this group which uses Syria as a base for its terrorist activities."

Al-Dabbagh would not say who had carried it out.

"Iraq is always seeking distinguished relations with its sister Syria," he said.

"The presence of some anti-Iraq groups in Syria, which are supporting and participating in activities against Iraqis, would hinder improvement of these relations".

Syrian anger

Following the attack, the Syrian government summoned the senior US and Iraqi envoys to Damascus to protest against the raid, the Syrian Arab news agency (Sana) reported.

A Syrian government statement said: "Syria condemns this aggression and holds the American forces responsible for this aggression and all its repercussions."

The statement also called for the Iraqi government to launch an investigation into the attack.

"This is a flagrant violation of the new [security] agreement between Iraq and the US," Haddad told Al Jazeera.

"Because one of the points of that agreement is that they do not attack bordering countries."

Workers killed

Syrian state television said four American helicopters raided the village of Sukariya - close to the town of Abu Kamal, 8km inside the Syrian border - before flying back towards Iraqi territory.

During the raids, two of the helicopters landed and dropped off eight US soldiers, who then entered a house, Syrian media reported.
"Four American helicopters violated Syrian airspace around 4:45pm local time [13:45 GMT] on Sunday," state television reported.

"American soldiers ... attacked a civilian building under construction and fired at workmen inside, causing eight deaths."

The government said that those killed in the raid were workers.

Akram Hameed, a man in his 40s who said he was injured in the attack while fishing in the Euphrates river, told Syrian television he saw four helicopters coming from the border area under a heavy blanket of fire.

"One of the helicopters landed in an agricultural area and eight members disembarked," Hameed said.

"The firing lasted about 15 minutes and when I tried to leave the area on my motorcycle, I was hit by a bullet in the right arm about 20 metres away."

Syria TV showed what it said was the injured wife of the building's guard, in bed in hospital with a tube in her nose, saying that two helicopters landed and two remained in the air during the attack.

US incursion

The US and the US-backed Iraqi government frequently accuse Damascus of not doing enough to stop anti-US fighters, including those from al-Qaeda, crossing the border into Iraq.

But Syrian analysts say the demands are unfounded.

"Syria has one million and a half refugees - it is impossible to make it a full-proof frontier," Samir al-Taqi, director of the Orient Centre for International Studies, a Syrian think-tank, told Al Jazeera.

"Syria has requested technical assistance to be able to control [the border with Iraq] and the Americans were reluctant," he said.

The Americans failed to reply to all the requests by the Syrian government and to allow the Iraqis to build up security co-ordination across the border."

Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, there have been some instances in which American troops crossed areas of the 600km border in pursuit of fighters. Israeli aircraft have also in the past violated Syria's airspace.

'Foreign fighters'

Sunday's alleged raid comes just days after the commander of US forces in western Iraq said American troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border, which he called an "uncontrolled" gateway for fighters entering Iraq.

US Major-General John Kelly said on Thursday that Iraq's western borders with Saudi Arabia and Jordan were fairly tight as a result of good policing by security forces in those countries but that Syria was a "different story".

"The Syrian side is, I guess, uncontrolled by their side," Kelly said. "We still have a certain level of foreign fighter movement."

Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Hughes, a spokesman for US forces in western Iraq, said the US division that operates on the Iraqi side of the border was not involved in Sunday's incident.

The area targeted lies close to the Iraqi border city of Qaim, which in the past has been a crossing point for fighters, weapons and money used to fuel the armed Sunni opposition against Iraq's government.



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